20.07.2020 - The Western Province of the Solomon Islands has rugged natural beauty, proud and friendly people and an incredibly rich 'kastom' culture. The area attracts visitors for its pristine reefs and forests, and these visitors also value their own health and wellbeing. That's why developing eco-resorts, which offer yoga and other wellness services, is a natural fit for the development of tourism, jobs and investment there.
Shaun Bowler, with his partner Joy, started his assignment as Yoga Teacher Trainer and Well-Being Adviser in the Solomon Islands in May 2019.
“We were introducing yoga to the Western Province of the Solomon Islands with the goal that local people would want to gain the skills to become yoga teachers themselves and this would provide valuable local employment opportunities in the developing tourism industry, as well as deepen the tourism offer for overseas guests,” said Shaun.
Shaun and Joy used various techniques to engage the local community.
“On day one I just rolled out my yoga mat in the local market in Munda (our town) and did yoga. There is no other way. The first words in the Yoga Sutras are ‘Now, yoga begins’. And so it was....”
Later Shaun put up flyers and talked to people in the community.
“We started doing local classes. Our partner organisation was Dive Munda, a local dive operator, and the staff and owner were very supportive.
“We approached church groups, nearby resorts and guesthouse operators and made them aware of what we were doing. We donated all the class fees (which tourists paid - classes were free for local people) to the local charity hospital.”
As well as support from Dive Munda, Shaun and Joy also got support from the YWCA at a national level for women-only classes and were offered the YWCA hall for classes. “To have a women-only space for them to practice in was essential. Belinda Botha, the owner of Dive Munda, is both a strong advocate for empowerment of local women, and a strong role model that a woman can run a successful business.”
Shaun also worked with young people in Ughele village on nearby Rendova Island. “These young people were both physically skilled and engaged in what we were doing. Some are still practicing yoga and are desperate to train as yoga teachers.”
Dive Munda is one of three dive operators in the Western Province. As well as having trained the first two Solomon Island women scuba instructors in the country, it also employs a great team of local people guiding and teaching scuba diving providing skills and employment, as well as attracting visitors to local accommodation. Dive Munda also champions environmental protection.
“We made friends with all the team. We shared meals together, and one of the perks of being embedded in a dive operation is getting out diving! Both Joy and I are keen divers, so it was a perfect fit.
“Despite the challenges to Solomon Island tourism thrown up by Covid-19, Dive Munda is still offering online dive education via Scuba Schools International (SSI) and is open for business to the lucky scuba divers remaining in the country. Incredible experiences wait the intrepid visitor to Munda when borders re-open,” says Shaun.
“I still feel personal loss and the pain of the sudden transition, from the unspoilt reefs and forests to Level Four lockdown, very deeply. But I am grateful that VSA had our backs. It has only deepened my interest in returning on another assignment one day.”
Despite having to leave earlier than planned due to COVID-19, Shaun and Joy are happy with what they were able to achieve.
“As a result of our work, people in the Western Province know that yoga can be part of what they offer to tourists. Some of the young people have now practiced yoga alongside visitors from the UK, USA, Australia and other places. They know that visitors will pay for these wellness experiences, just like they will pay for diving and fishing trips.”
You can also see Dive Munda on Instagram here