Australia gets down to business in Isabel
Australian High Commissioner Dr Lachlan Strahan undertook his third visit to Isabel Province from 11-12 October to explore the diversity and depth of the Australian development partnership taking place.
Accompanied throughout his visit by Premier Sikilabu, Solomon Islands first female Premier, Dr Strahan observed the commencement of work to build the new marketplace in Buala, inspected an Australian funded school and training facilities, and attended the opening of an extension to the Isabel Provincial Council of Women Resource Centre.
Dr Strahan witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Australia’s Solomon Islands Infrastructure Program (SIIP) and the Isabel Provincial Government for the design and construction of the new market.
The signing of the market MOU formalises the first of at least ten provincial markets to be rolled out under the Australian funded Provincial Markets Redevelopment Project, delivered under SIIP.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Dr Lachlan Strahan said, last week two Prime Ministers – Prime Minister Albanese and Prime Minister Sogavare – held a meeting, and it is significant that I have come from such a high-level meeting to this meeting here in the province. This underlines how important the relationship is between our two countries – Australia and Solomon Islands. Our Prime Minister stressed that Australia’s commitment to build infrastructure across Solomon Islands is rock solid.
Dr Strahan said SIIP is an inclusive program, and over its 10-year life will provide a range of infrastructure in all provinces critical to long-term development needs, reaching right down to rural areas – connecting people to economic opportunities and each other.
“Markets are the main source of income for families in rural areas, and Australia, through SIIP, is proud to support people to earn an income, support their families, realise new business opportunities, and deliver national prosperity”, Dr Strahan said.
Dr Strahan and Premier Sikilabu handed over the Isabel Provincial Council of Women – Women Resource Extension Project funded by Australia’s Direct Aid Program (DAP).
Dr Strahan congratulated Project Coordinators Dorothy Bana and Sarah Toni, noting the project significantly improved the Resource Centre, enabling a safe and accessible environment for women to meet. Dr Strahan said, ‘This project has a bonus: the Isabel Council of Women can now hire out the refurbished conference room as a venue to the broader community, creating a new income stream.’
The Direct Aid Program has been in place for over two decades. In the past three years, DAP has supported 35 projects across all nine provinces. It is a small, flexible grants scheme, which the Australian High Commission administers directly. The Program funds community-led projects to help improve community standards of living.
Dr Strahan also toured the Buala Hospital with Dr Tony Quity, Isabel Provincial Health Director, discussing the issues faced by the health sector in the provinces. Australia supports health service delivery in the provinces through the Health Sector Support Program Phase 3.
In Garanga, Dr Strahan inspected two classrooms constructed under the Direct Aid Program at Garanga primary School. Dr Strahan and Premier Sikilabu also visited the Garanga Rural Training Centre. The training centre has recently become an Australia Pacific Coalition (APTC) partner, joining in the first half of 2022. During his address to students Dr Strahan said ‘Technical skills in agriculture, construction and other vocational careers are vital, as without a strong cohort of young people acquiring these necessary skills and knowledge our economies cannot grow and prosper.’
The learning capacity of the Rural Training Centre has been boosted with the recent delivery of twenty laptops, tools and equipment plus transport vehicles as part of Australia’s support to Rural Training Centres through the APTC-3 skill’s strengthening program.
A visit to the Calthliro cocoa plantation, Garanga, demonstrated Australia’s commitment to private sector development, agriculture and trade. The tour of the cocoa plantation was hosted by Diane Yates, the CEO of Cathliro. With support from the Australian and New Zealand funded PHARMA Plus and Australia’s Strongim Bisnis Program, Cathliro exports dried cocoa beans to both bulk and premium/ boutique importers in four global markets: Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and more recently Fiji.
Such is the success of Cathliro chocolate in both domestic and international market places, Dr Strahan lamented to CEO Yates that he is no longer able to purchase Calthliro chocolate in local Honiara stores. He asked if Calthliro could produce more chocolate in time for Christmas. Ms Yates happily agreed.
Dr Strahan was able to experience the vitality and richness of Isabel’s culture, with musical groups performing in Buala and Garanga.