VSA volunteers Jelinda Tiare and Coleridge Basale


Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) has nine local volunteers working within COVID-19 response groups in Solomon Islands. VSA Programme Manager, Shupayi (Shu) Mpunga-Direen says she recruited the team due to the urgent need for a Covid-19 call centre to be set up as well as the individual skills.

On January 18, 2022, Solomon Islands recorded their first positive community case of COVID-19.  It fast became clear that the virus had been spreading since December 2019. However, as we have all come to understand, once the virus is present it is near impossible to eliminate, and thus the Government announced a three-day lockdown, followed by aseven-day lockdown.

Shu offered her aid during this time to the National Health Emergency Operation Centre (NHEOC) helping within the COVID-19 response team and soon identified the need for additional support managing the public response telephone lines. Partnering with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS), Shu deployed six Solomon Islanders as volunteers for an initial eight-week period to provide an essential COVID-19 call centre service for the residents of Honiara.  The group consisted of people she had previously volunteered and worked with through Red Cross and World Vision Solomon Islands.

“Apart from supporting a key partner organisation with the support they needed, my focus was on ensuring that young people were given the opportunity to be a part of something positive. I knew they were capable because they had public health qualifications needed for the assignment to run successfully.”

VSA supplied the funding from generous donations to support this project and provided accommodation and food for the volunteers while MHMS supplied the space, transport and PPE for the call centre to function.

The quick-response and successful running of the call centre can be credited to the volunteers being both locally assigned and highly skilled due to their training in public health management and crisis response. Shu says, “They were eager to be involved in the project and didn’t need prior training about local culture, language and communication during this time.”

The quick-response and successful running of the call centre can be credited to the volunteers being both locally assigned and highly skilled

As the eight-week assignment was ending, NHOC’s supervisor, Kelton Sikala, stated these volunteers were, “skilled, knowledgeable and a blessing” and requested VSA to provide three more volunteers and extend the assignment to the end of May 2022. The New Zealand High Commission provided funding to increase the number of volunteers and extend the assignment, to include support at domestic ports of entry and data entry for the Contact Tracing team.

Front: Joseph Tona, Frank Tuita. Back: Coleridge Basale, Jelinda Tiare, Besty Mae

Shu confirms the initiative was completed at the end of May and the need for these volunteers ceased. “This was wonderful, because it meant we succeeded in our purpose to exit crisis mode.”

Having nine active local volunteers equipped with the understanding of how to respond in a culturally appropriate manner involved with COVID-19 response teams is a huge value to the community. VSA’s ability to adapt quickly and recruit local volunteers through immediate access of funding from donors and funders has enabled us to play an active role in supporting the health and well-being on people living in Honiara.