- The official language is English (spoken by only 1-2% of the population), but the lingua franca is Solomon Islands pijin. There are more than 80 different local languages plus dialects.
- Solomon Islands Independence Day is 7 July. Solomon Islands became independent on 1978 and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
- There is a mixed legal system of English common law and customary law.
- Around 77% of the population live outside of urban areas
- The bulk of the population depends on agriculture, fishing, and forestry for their livelihoods.
- Most manufactured goods and petroleum products are imported.
- Approximately 78% of Solomon Islanders have and use a mobile phone.
- Around 12% of the population use the internet and 11% are active mobile social media users, although this is increasing by 62% each year
- Solomon Islands has a high youth population – two-thirds is under 30 years of age
- Life expectancy is 73 years
- Solomon Islands has a Human Development Index rating of 157, according to the 2014 UN Human Development Report. (Source: CIA Factbook , UN Development Programme International human development indicators)
Language and culture
VSA assignments usually last between one and two years, so local language training is important. We provide basic language training (pijin) at the start of assignments and follow up training if necessary during assignment.
Understanding local customs is vital to a successful assignment. For example, in conversation, people do not usually approach things head on. In Melanesia there is a saying that, "if you want to enter the front door, you walk all the way around the house first."
The Solomon Islands is a strongly patriarchal society and holds conservative attitudes about the role of men and women in society. Women tend to socialise with women, and men with men.
Housing and living conditions
We provide our volunteers with basic, furnished accommodation with gas facilities for cooking. In Honiara, you will have access to power (although power outages can occur), phone, internet, piped water, restaurants, a variety of shops and large expatriate population. Provincial towns are well serviced compared to rural areas, and most have access to power. In rural areas, power will be generator-based if it is available. Mains water supply is not recommended for drinking so boil water, use a purifier, or drink bottled water.
The Solomon Islands is a conservative country and some western style clothing is not appropriate. Loose fitting, light, cotton clothing is best for the climate and culturally appropriate. For men choose long pants, knee length shorts and short sleeved shirts. For women, dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn – sleeveless shirts are also acceptable. Don’t expose skin above the knee though, especially when attending traditional events. Being barefoot inside the house is the rule and remember that rural areas and provincial towns will be more conservative than Honiara.
Malaria is endemic in the majority of the Solomon Islands and all our volunteers must use malarial prophylaxis. Dengue has also been known to be an issue. Other precautions are still recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves / trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in villages. Skin infections can develop quickly so have a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics. Public hospitals are found in all provincial centres and smaller health centres are scattered throughout rural areas. Health care is basic and you’ll need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.
We provide all volunteers with a thorough security briefing prior to departure and specific local issues are covered during your in-country orientation. In general, there are no problems moving around the majority of Honiara and provincial centres during the day but it is not safe to walk alone in Honiara after dark. Over 98 per cent of land and coastal marine area is in traditional ownership. Strangers cannot wander freely through private or empty land without first seeking permission – always take a trusted local person with you.
Banking and finances
We open a local bank account for all volunteers on arrival in the Solomons where monthly living allowances are paid into. Banks include ANZ, BSP, POB, Bred Bank and a few local credit unions in Honiara and all provincial centres have a BSP agent where you can withdraw money. A number of provincial centres also have solar-powered ANZ ATMs but BSP customers must withdraw funds through a teller. Local currency is the Solomon Islands dollar. Visit Westpac for current exchange rates.
Cell phones and email
The Solomon Islands has two cellular providers – Telekom and Bemobile. Coverage is increasing but is not always reliable. When cellular coverage is working, you can text and call internationally, but calls can be expensive. Internet connections are limited and slow compared to New Zealand. There are Telekom buildings in the provincial centres and these are often the only places to check emails and use public pay phones.