Hero photograph
Photo by Rev Peter Rickman

A reverend on a mission

Revd Peter Rickman —

St Paul's Revd Peter Rickman recently went to the Solomon Islands as part of his involvement with the Solomon Islands Medical Mission (SIMM).

Three years ago partnership was formed between a group of people from the Waikato, including myself, which has evolved into the Solomon Islands Medical Mission. One of the parties to this partnership is the daughter of Arthur Fletcher who, in 1927, left New Zealand to go and build a hospital at Fauabo on the island of Malaita in the Solomon Islands.

This was the first hospital for the Solomon Islands and by 1930 had over 400 patients. The hospital was closed during the Second World War by the occupying forces but was reopened in 1945 despite the operating theatre having been destroyed. Over the subsequent years, staffed by predominantly nurses, Fauabo “Hospital” continued as a basic rural health clinic. Arthur Fletcher‘s daughter returned in 2016 to see what, if anything, remained of her father’s work and was amazed to see that it was still operated as a clinic with two nurses and five assistants serving the needs of some 9000 Solomon Islanders!

Children with their new shoes, kindly donated to SIMM — Image by: Rev Peter Rickman

However, it was rediscovered in a poor state of repair with no electricity, no sanitation and buildings that were in urgent need of repair. These needs saw the birth of the SIMM NZ and together, with other partner agencies in the Solomon Islands, the work to upgrade and refurbish has begun. SIMM NZ is supported by Archbishop Sir David Moxon, our school doctor Dr Michael Oehley, other local people from the medical and engineering sectors and myself.

Alongside the hospital, SIMM NZ has also chosen to support a smaller project on the main island of Guadalcanal on the outskirts of its capital Honiara. Here, in the midst of the jungle, a group of forgotten economic refugees from other islands struggle to make a living from the harvesting and sale of coconuts. Several hundred families live here with no shelter, other than a few plastic sheets, who were originally brought over to be plantation workers on plantations which have now long since disappeared through logging.

On my first visit to the Solomon Islands in 2017, I visited this community and discovered a solitary teacher at work trying to provide very basic education for the children of these refugees around a campfire in the jungle. Through the support of a group of Anglican nuns living nearby, a basic kindergarten was established in a disused hut at the retreat centre where the nuns reside. This teacher, a Franciscan Brother called Sampson, is now supported by three other sisters who together now provide an education to over 50 children in very difficult circumstances and with very few resources.

Image by: Rev Peter Rickman

SIMM NZ now supports these two projects through a variety of different ways which include the shipping of medical and educational supplies and development of projects around the creation and provision of refurbishment and sanitation. For over a year now the community of St Paul’s Collegiate School has also informally and generously supported these projects. Over the next few months, our school community will hopefully establish a stronger relationship with SIMM NZ, the clinic at Fauabo and the Mother Emily Kindergarten Project.

Last May I was able to return to the Solomon Islands to visit both of these projects that we are supporting to see how things are fairing and also to consider what future involvement we might have as a school, in particular for our students. My visit was timely as it coincided with the arrival of the 21 boxes of medical and educational supplies that we had recently sent over last Christmas. It was particularly amazing to be at the kindergarten as we shared donated items from local Hamilton businesses with the children. They were totally blown away to receive their first ever pair of scuffs, their own toothbrush and toothpaste plus reading books, writing books and other sundry educational materials. Medical supplies were also distributed and a four-hour long basic health check and first aid clinic was provided for these children.

Children are treated for bakua, a type of skin lesion prevalent in the small Pacific nation.  — Image by: St Paul's Collegiate School

During the visit to the hospital, it was so good to see the first instalment of solar panels providing much needed electrical power for two of the wards. Prior to installation, babies were being delivered in the night by the nurses wearing head torches! However, much work remains to be done, particularly in the area of sanitation. The fundraising and publicity material for the clinic, recently designed and produced by the wonderful marketing department here at St Paul's, was displayed at the clinic much to the delight of the hospital staff and many other children who live there. The two girls in the picture were absolutely squealing with delight to see themselves as the “cover girls” of the hospital fundraising campaign brochure!

These are two amazing projects to be involved in and it is such a humbling experience to be there and to work amongst some incredibly dedicated and inspirational people both at the health clinic and the kindergarten.

In respect to the future, we hope to continue and develop further the involvement of our school community with these two projects. It is our hope to return next year, subject to the appropriate processes being observed and followed, with an initial group of small students with an interest in medicine, teaching and building/engineering. I am working towards recruiting a group of local Waikato engineers and other qualified people to return to the clinic at Fauabo and, along with our students, to re-establish basic sanitation and water supply there with local support as well from the island community itself.

Image by: Rev Peter Rickman

There will be more information published with respect to this potential project in due course as plans are developed and finalised.

The Solomon Islands is a remarkable country, made up of many diverse island communities and peoples. They face many challenges but I find there are real desire and commitment by so many people to improve the quality of life for themselves and their children in particular. From a New Zealand perspective, we have a long and well-established relationship with this part of the world. Many New Zealanders served there during the Second World War and indeed the Solomon Islands Anglican Church (Melanesian Church) was a part of the New Zealand province until 1975. Our bonds of friendship and closeness stretch back over many many decades and it’s good to see this continue through SIMM NZ and St Paul's Collegiate School.

For more information on these projects, or to lend your support, please contact me at revpeter@stpauls.school.nz

I commend this project to you, our future partnership with them and hope to hear from you.

Blessings. Rev.