Our association with Kiribati (pronounced ‘kee-ree-bus’), dates back to 1967 when the first of 34 volunteers took up an assignment there. Our programme focuses on promoting sustainable economic and urban development and strengthening the public sector with volunteers working at the Kiribati Marine Training Centre on Tarawa, waste management and access to water on Kiritimati Island. The Kiribati programme is managed from our Wellington office.

The Republic of Kiribati, formerly the Gilbert Islands, is located in Micronesia and made up of 32 atolls and one raised coral island: Kiritimati (Christmas) Island. Kiribati has just over 100,000 inhabitants, most living in densely populated areas. With an estimated 137 people per square kilometre, it has the largest sea-to-land ratio in the world. Approximately one-quarter of the population live in the capital, South Tarawa, on the atoll of Tarawa.

The mwaneaba (community house) is traditionally the centre of community life where community discussions, council meetings and celebrations take place and where important decisions are made. Christianity is the main religion although there are a number of people who practice the Baha’i faith.

What we’re doing in Kiribati

Kiribati is one of the least developed countries in the world, with few natural resources. The economy is dependent on development aid, overseas family remittances and fishing license fees. Economic development is constrained by a shortage of skilled workers, high unemployment, weak infrastructure, high population density in urban areas and geographical remoteness. Our Kiribati programme is focused on promoting sustainable economic and urban development and strengthening the public sector.

More than one fifth of the country’s GDP now comes from tourism (although the majority of the economy is based on a subsistence lifestyle with around 80 per cent of the population relying on fishing for their livelihood). Our volunteers on recent assignments have worked at the Kiribati Marine Training Centre (MTC) on Tarawa. The MTC prepares young i-Kiribati to become seafarers on foreign ships by providing training on shipping, first aid, survival, social studies, English and hospitality services, among other skills. This vocational training offers an opportunity for young people to find employment and generate an income for their families.

Climate change is a major issue. Most of the country sits just one or two metres above sea level. Although health indicators have improved in recent years, Kiribati has the highest infant mortality rate in the Pacific. There is low life expectancy and a high incidence of nutrition-related non-communicable diseases. VSA’s work on water and waste management and is helping to create sustainable infrastructure for better public health.

VSA’s work in Kiribati is a mixture of short-term assignments around technical and management advice such as engineering, and long-term assignments building skills and capacity such as English language skills.