Solomon Islands school support staff will soon be offered union membership for the first time. A delegation, Jimmy Soalakana, National Treasurer of the Solomon Islands National Teachers Association (SINTA), Stenneth Bulehiti, Financial Controller of SINTA and Jackson Meke, Principal of Bishop Epalle Catholic School, recently visited the IEU.
IEU Support Staff Vice President Carolyn Collins talked at length to the delegation about the need to include support staff in their ranks, and Mr Soalakana told IEU’s June Council meeting he planned to start recruiting when the group returned to the Islands.
The exchange came about through the advocacy of IEU Delegate Jeff Pratt, whose school Mt St Patrick’s College Murwillumbah has had a long standing exchange relationship with St Mary’s Tanaghai Primary and Bishop Epalle High School in the Solomon Islands.
The relationship developed after a World Youth Day exchange. Jeff has since been over to the Islands five times, sometimes using his own leave time to set up things ready for the students.
“The Solomon Islands Immersion Program is about developing relationships. We learn from them and they learn from us. The students that come to Australia see a new world and I think the students that go to the Solomon’s come back with a new appreciation of what they have,” Jeff said.
SINTA was founded in 1980 and employs seven staff at its head office in Honiara, with coverage of 4000 teachers out of 10,000 in employment.
Teachers are the lowest paid public servants on the Islands, earning about $200AUD a fortnight, low even by Islands standards.
Mr Soalakana told council delegates recruitment was a challenge because the Solomons are made up of hundreds of scattered islands.
“We have to travel on boats, with outboard motors, to reach islands to convince teachers to join SINTA,” Mr Soalakana said.
He said teachers’ mindsets needed to change, with many expecting “overnight results”.
Keeping the Union solvent had at times been difficult, but despite these difficulties SINTA was able to gain support for three extensive strikes during 2013.
Support came from the local community, with parents donating bags of rice to keep teachers’ families going.
Mr Soalakana said he hoped for an ongoing relationship with the IEU, and looked forward to officers providing training for his staff in the future.
Mr Meke said the sister relationship with St Patrick’s College had provided “a significant lift” for his students, and he hoped the sister relationship with the IEU would provide similar benefits for SINTA.
The Solomon Islands Immersion Program at St Patrick’s provides practical help such as new reading corners with shelving in the primary school, improved toilet facilities in the high school, a new playground and freshly painted classrooms and science equipment.
School fundraising allows students from the Islands to visit Australia, and a book drive saw a large number of books shipped over to populate the new reading corners.
A collection at Council raised $735 for the visitors. If you are interested in helping further, contact Jeff Pratt via firstname.lastname@example.org.