Howie Smith is volunteering as a Infrastructure Adviser with the Ministry of Education, Human Resources and Development in Solomon Islands. He will complete his assignment in May 2017.
Published on 24th May 2017
As he finishes up his stint in the Solomons, Howie Smith reflects on his time there...
With only one week of my assignment left, I have had some time to reflect on the past three months. As expected, my time in the Solomon Islands has flown by! It has been a really amazing experience that I would definitely recommend to anyone that gets the chance to do it.
Before beginning the assignment, I was most apprehensive about beginning a new job and how much I would be able to contribute in my role. Being the first of the 2017 Downer volunteers, it was going to be difficult not having an in-country handover, and also because it was over two months since the last Downer volunteer had left. However, I surprised myself with how easily I merged into the team and found my feet.
The majority of my focus has been helping create better procedures right from the planning stage of projects. Some past projects have not been completed as planned due to site, contract, and monitoring issues. To mitigate this, I have been trying to build the capacity of project implementation by assisting with initial site investigations, the technical information of tenders, and setting new project monitoring tools. We have also begun plans for contractor workshops. These workshops will train the contractors on how to use basic project management tools and explain contractual expectations.
I have been fortunate to go on two work trips to the provinces so far, and have one last trip planned for this coming weekend. These trips have been a real highlight of my time here. My first trip was with a colleague to Ghizo, in the Western Province, for four nights. During this time, we investigated four school sites which are having classrooms constructed later this year. The second trip was by myself to the remote Weather Coast, at the eastern end of Guadalcanal, for two nights. The purpose of this trip was to do pre-pour inspections for the foundation of science classrooms at two schools.
By undertaking these work trips, I was able to get a taste of the real Solomons lifestyle, out of the hustle of Honiara. I was able to see how schools in the Solomon Islands are run and was always met with a happy face, grateful for the new infrastructure that their schools are getting.
The Solomon Islands have been great for adventuring around outside of work. I have tried to make the most of my weekends by diving, snorkelling, doing waterfall walks, island hopping, relaxing at beaches and general site-seeing. I went away to Tetepare, in the Western province, for a few nights over the Easter break. This was another highlight. Tetepare is the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific and has so much wildlife around with some awesome snorkelling. I have also allowed for a week at the end of my assignment to get some final relaxation and diving in before returning home. I feel like I have only hit the top of the iceberg here and hope to come back sometime soon to finish exploring the ‘Hapi Isles’.
Winding down over the past couple of weeks, I have been able to reflect more on what I have got out of my time here. The main things I have gained are self-development, knowledge of developing countries and the overall enjoyment of my experience here. Before beginning my assignment I had developed my critical thinking and problem solving skills through study and previous experiences. The challenge I was next faced with was using my skills in a completely foreign work environment.
I was required to use these skills daily and from a different perspective, which I think has been really beneficial towards my self-development. Through successfully doing this, I feel like I have gained confidence in my working style and knowledge of the field. Living and working in a developing country has also taught me about what development actually is. Previously, I was naive to development but now have new insight into how work done can directly help the livelihood of people. By staying in villages and meeting with local people, I have been reminded of the simplicity needed to live a happy life.
I have always had a passion for adventure and there couldn’t be a better place for it then the Solomon Islands. I have loved the experiences of the everyday, weekend, and longer adventures and hope to come back to properly explore one day.
Finally I have gained three months of amazing experiences, met some great people and have overall just had a really good time. I encourage anyone considering it to take the opportunity to do an assignment like this.
A big thank you must be given to VSA, Downer and MEHRD for making this possible - Tagio Tumas!