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Caritas Australia honoured for Solomons work

martina and kids

Serious singing: Martina and her students in the Solomon Islands sing nursery rhymes that carry the messages that will help them stay safe during natural disasters.
Photo Credit: Richard Wainwright

CARITAS Australia’s Solomon Islands country office has won the inaugural Pacific Innovation and Leadership Award for Resilience (PILAR) for helping local communities prepare for natural disasters.

The PILAR was awarded to the office at a recent disaster risk management forum in Fiji, and was shared with representatives from two other not-for-profit organisations.

Established by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the award encourages efforts in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors to develop innovative approaches to disaster risk reduction (DRR) in the Pacific.

The Pacific region has had a number of natural disasters in recent years, and some of these have had a devastating effect on the people of the Solomon Islands. In February last year, a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that swept away many homes, with several people being reported missing. In 2007, another tsunami killed at least 52 people and left thousands homeless across the archipelago, while in 2009 flash floods killed eight people, with three children under four years being reported missing.

To help the Solomon Islands and other countries in the region, Caritas Australia’s Solomon Islands staff have been working with local communities to develop a series of programs that prepare vulnerable communities for natural disasters and reduce risks.

One of the programs, featured in Caritas Australia’s Project Compassion appeal campaign this year, educates children about the dangers of natural disasters through nursery rhymes, songs and other group activities that teach them what to do in an emergency.

Caritas’ Solomon Islands program officer Mary Malagela said the program was a simple, yet effective, way to get the message across.

“It is really important to teach young kids simple and effective DRR messages, ones they will be able to share with their friends and family,” Ms Malagela said. “It is something that is easy to remember, even during a stressful situation like a disaster event, and it can help kids feel safe, knowing what to do to protect themselves in a disaster. This is what makes our Nursery Rhyme Program so popular.”

Since its inception, more than 4000 children across the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu have participated in the program. Ms Malagela and her colleagues hope to extend their DRR programs to primary and high school children elsewhere in the Pacific region. To achieve this, they will be working closely with the Solomon Islands’ National Disaster Office and Ministry of Education and Human Resources.

Ms Malagela said one of the factors behind the program’s success had been the collaborative nature of its development. By conveying emergency procedures through the language and customs of local communities, the program exemplified, as Ms Malagela points out, what can be achieved when local officials work with their communities.

“This program relies on strong partnerships in the community,” she said. “Everyone is responsible for minimising the risk of disasters in a community, from teachers and children and their parents, to the National Disaster Management Office.

“We are extremely excited and happy that our Nursery Rhyme Program has been recognised by the United Nations and we are very proud of ourachievement on DRR.”

To find out more about the Nursery Rhyme Program and hear from a local school teacher, Martina, visit the Caritas Australia website. To support the 2014 Project Compassion appeal which funds vital programs such as this, go to www.caritas.org.au/projectcompassion.

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