Volunteer

The Melanesian Mission plays a key role developing partnerships between those from the Anglican Church of Melanesia and the Church of England.

Historically the Mission would send missionaries from the UK to work with the church in the region for years at a time. Today the charity sends more and more people on short term placements from just a few weeks to one to two years.

School Partnerships (twinning) are a major project for the Melanesian Mission today. We have schools in Chester, Blackburn and Exeter Dioceses linked with schools across Melanesia. These partnerships are enabling the children to experience cross cultural learning, as well as supporting teachers through learning resources and other skills.

The charity enables church workers from Melanesia to share their life, faith and experiences with a UK audience. Study programmes, missions to the UK and long term placements for clergy all help build relationships and share the Gospel. We can also offer placements / sabbaticals for UK church workers in Melanesia. The youth and vibrancy of the Church of Melanesia has much to offer.

If you would like more details on any of these areas, please contact the charity.

Gap Years

Project Trust

Thinking about a gap year in Melanesia?

With over 50 years’ experience of providing Gap Year opportunities for 17-19 year old school leavers, Project Trust is our official partner for arranging placements at church schools in Melanesia.


Visitor Guide to the Solomon Islands & Vanuatu

Our guide is intended as a short introduction to some of the practicalities of visiting Melanesia.
For up to date travel advice visit British High Commission Honiara.

The Solomon Islands and Vanuatu make up the large part of Melanesia. This is a geographic term (meaning ‘black islands’) for a region of islands west of, and distinct from, Polynesia (‘many islands”) in the South Pacific. Melanesia is east of northern Australia / south-east of Papua New Guinea / west of Fiji. Vanuatu is south of the Solomons and north of New Caledonia.

It is hot and quite wet in Melanesia all of the time. Vanuatu is a bit cooler than the Solomons because it is further from the equator. The stormy season is from December to March, so a visit between May and November is best. In 2017 there was a cyclone in May, but they are not supposed to happen after about March.

The Solomons are about as far south of the Equator as Singapore is north of it, but it feels much hotter in the Solomons because there is very little air-conditioning (and much less electricity).

Schools in the Solomons and Vanuatu follow the Australian calendar, so their long holidays are from December to the beginning of February. This means that the schools are in session in July, making a visit near the beginning of the UK school holidays to be a practical proposition for teachers.

Because of the distance, it is hardly worth going for less than two weeks, and more time means more experience. Many visitors will add extra time to travel in the region or to stop over elsewhere.

The Solomons and Vanuatu are both members of the Commonwealth.

Population of the Solomons is about 600,000, and growing rapidly. The nation became independent from the UK in 1978. The Queen is the head of state, and her head appears on coins and bank notes. There are 6 main islands, and about 900 other islands.

Vanuatu’s population is about 300,000. From 1906 to 1980, the country was known as New Hebrides, and it was an Anglo-French condominium run jointly by both powers. French is still a national language in Vanuatu, but is becoming less widely spoken.

Vanuatu is a republic, with its own president. The British High Commissioner in Honiara is also accredited to Vanuatu. Vanuatu is more prosperous than the Solomons, and its GDP per capita is about 30% higher.

In both countries, many of the shops in towns are run by Chinese merchants. This includes most of the dry goods and clothing retailers. Many of the Chinese families came from the mainland at least 50 - 75 years ago.

It takes over 24 hours to get to Vanuatu or the Solomons from UK. The simplest route is via Brisbane, with a change of plane in either Singapore or Dubai.

From Brisbane there are flights almost every day to both Honiara and Port Vila. These take about 2 ½ hours.

Some locals fly from or to Singapore via Port Moresby in PNG, in order to avoid the need for Australian visas. As UK passport holders can get an Australian transit visa for free, this is an unnecessary complication for most people.

In theory, you can also travel the other way around, via Los Angeles and Fiji. But this takes longer and usually involves an extra flight change in Hawaii.

Some people break their flights with an overnight is Singapore or Brisbane.

It takes about 2 hours to fly between Honiara and Port Vila. At present, flights only go twice a week because of a dispute between airlines, but this should improve.

This varies though the year. Tickets are usually more expensive for July / August, but are a lot cheaper if bought well in advance. Many of the airlines have sales in the second quarter of the year: Trailfinders is good at advising on this.

Currently a return Economy flight is about £1,200 for the whole journey to one country. The basic ticket to Brisbane is around £600/ 700, but tickets from Brisbane to the islands cost £200 or more. A combined ticket for both countries will cost around £1,500 / 2,000 (excluding the costs of any local flights).

For anyone over about 5’ 9”, it is a good idea to buy extra legroom seats in Economy for the long sectors (about £50 / 60 each). The mark-up in ticket price from Economy to Economy Plus, let alone Business class, is enormous.

Taxis are very cheap and safe for journeys in Honiara.

If you are offered transport outside Honiara in a jeep or truck, it’s good to try to pay for the fuel. It will usually have been assumed that you will pay, and you may simply get a bill afterwards.

Fuel stations are often closed on Sundays: a good idea to ask the driver to fill up in advance!

Air travel between the main islands is practical in terms of time saving, but is expensive. However inter-island ferries are unreliable (and unpredictable as to timetables) to the extent that the British High Commission’s travel advisory recommends against their use. In practice it will be hard to follow this for a lot of journeys if you need to get about.

Many shorter journeys between islands are by ‘canoe’, i.e. fibreglass launches with large outboard engines, which can carry up to 10 passengers. This will be offered as the standard way to go to Tulagi, Taroaniara or Gela, or Savo for a weekend, which all take about an hour.

Some boats operators are starting to provide life jackets, which is a novel idea. If you are expecting to use ‘canoes’, it would be worth asking about the availability of life jackets in advance.

Journeys often start very early in the morning, soon after dawn, which helps get the most out of the day.

UK passport holders do not need visas to enter the Solomons or Vanuatu for less than a month.

For Australia, a pre-arranged transit visa (‘ETA’) is required for stopovers longer than 18 hours; these can be got on-line for free.

Clothing isn’t dressy for men or women. Because of the heat, almost everyone wears light cotton. Women are expected to dress modestly.

Women should take long cotton skirts, and no miniskirts. Longish shorts are practical, especially if you may be getting in and out of the back of trucks.

Very few men wear jackets or ties for any occasion. Long sleeve shirts are for smart occasions, and short sleeves otherwise. Wear long trousers for office visits in Honiara, or Port Vila / Luganville; not-too-short shorts are acceptable at other times.

You’ll be taking shoes off at almost everyone’s house, so it’s best to avoid ones with laces. ‘Croc’ waterproof sandals or similar are useful: you may be walking through streams / over stones quite regularly.

Take a lightweight anorak or kagool, as it rains a lot, and you’ll need one for any boat outings. Also a light cotton sweater for evenings or boat journeys, even in Solomons. It is cooler in Vanuatu, so a light sweater is useful there in the evenings.

  • Mosquito net, of course. These are often supplied at guest houses, but it’s not worth assuming they are always there;
  • Small torch; power supply is frequently off;
  • Penknife, and some string (for tying up mosquito nets);
  • Cotton hat;
  • Insect spray / cream (you can get more there when needed);
  • Sun block / cream (ditto);
  • Basin plug – they are usually missing;
  • Small bar of soap;
  • Compact ‘travel towel’ from a camping shop – these fold up into a small pouch, and dry quickly;
  • One or two small padlocks – things can go astray;
  • Pack of cards;
  • Small basic medical kit;
  • If you use a notebook for a diary or similar, take one or two with you;
  • Kindle or e-book, if you’ve got one (and charger).

It’s best to assume that you can’t buy replacement items locally. There is a new Western-style pharmacy in the Hyundai Mall next to the market in Honiara, which sells simple medicines and creams.

Imported goods are expensive; but local produce – and also taxis in Honiara – are very cheap by international standards.

Prices generally rose in Honiara for accommodation, cafes and many goods in the last 8 – 10 years because of the impact of Australian and other expats who came in with the RAMSI aid workers.

Because of limited electricity supplies and lack of refrigeration, people eat a great deal of vegetables, cabbage, tinned food and rice.

Traditional diet is based on slow-cooked root vegetables, such as cassava, taro and yams. Many people have consciously moved away to eat more ‘fast food’ including rice, which had led to increases in obesity and in instances of diabetes in both countries.

Villagers by the sea catch and eat plenty of fish, but not usually in enough quantities for e.g. schools. Chicken is imported from China in large quantities as frozen product, but they seem to get only the smallest thighs to save money.

A surprising amount of tinned tuna is eaten – usually from fish caught around the islands but re-imported after being canned abroad. There was a Japanese joint venture canning factory in Tulagi in the Solomons in the late 1970s, which did not continue.

There is a beef industry in Vanuatu, producing top quality meat of which some is even exported to Japan.

Malaria is common, and it is strongly advisable to take medication. Many people choose Malarone.

In the UK, these medications can now be got from the pharmacies at large supermarkets, including Tesco, without a doctor’s prescription; and Malarone recently came off patent.

Dengue Fever has also become more common in Solomons in particular, and there is no preventative medication. Long sleeves in the evening and use of insect sprays are very important.

Both countries are essentially safe; but it’s wise to be careful outside the main areas or after dark. Taxis are safe in town, but it’s sensible to agree the price in advance (about SBD 10 in Honiara for short journeys).

The biggest risk in Honiara is in falling into holes in the pavement.

Public drinking and drink-driving have become a problem in Honiara recently, but most visitors are unlikely to be affected if sensible.

A lot of accommodation is self-catering. This is a challenge for many visitors, but guesthouses are almost always happy to cook meals if asked in advance.

In central Honiara, there are several restaurants (Chinese and two Indian) on or near Mendana Avenue, as well as eating-places in the main hotels.

There are also some café’s – both expat style and more local – in Honiara, but these tend to close at 5 pm. Better for brunch at weekends, or lunch.

Eating out in Vanuatu is more sophisticated in both Port Vila and Luganville, with a choice of French and international cooking.

Outside the main towns, there are guesthouses in main towns, often run by the Mothers Union.

The religious orders are generous in offering accommodation to suitable visitors. Visitors staying with the communities should be prepared to join in the houses’ activities, and also to make a contribution in terms of food supplies such as bags of rice or some tinned tuna.

Schools have limited accommodation for visiting teachers, but something can usually be arranged with advance planning.

In Honiara, Chester House offers accommodation to any visitor (including a few tourists) and has some air-conditioned rooms. Most rooms have ceiling fans, and communal washing arrangements.

St Agnes Rest House, at the Mothers Union HQ in Honiara, is another good alternative to the more expensive hotels.

People are very friendly, but can be a bit indirect. In particular, they may not give a lot away, and have a tendency to tell a visitor what they think he or she wants to hear.

In terms of needs and priorities, many Solomon Islanders will agree they want whatever has been suggested, which can make it harder to find out what is important.

Also, there is very little culture of maintenance and repairs, as opposed to an expectation that they could be given a replacement. This is a major issue for aid donors.

English is the official language for offices and secondary schools. Pidgin English (or Bislama in Vanuatu) is very widely spoken, and you may be able to guess a few words in it, although not enough to understand a lot!

Most people speak at least one other language from their home islands.

Standards and grammatical accuracy in English are declining, even in schools. In villages it should be possible to find someone who is able to converse in English.

It’s best to try to do this 10-15 days in advance. A month is usually too soon, and plans get changed at the last minute. You will almost certainly have to chase up for replies. Replying to emails is an underdeveloped skill in the Solomons.

The sea around Honiara isn’t very ‘beachy’ and is quite polluted. There is a good swimming pool at the Heritage Park hotel in Honiara, which non-guests can often use if they look suitably plausible. The (smaller) pool at the Mendana hotel seems usually to be under repair.

In Western Province, around Gizo, in the Solomons there is good diving and many excellent beaches, with some eco-lodge style accommodation. Facilities like these are much less developed in other parts of the Solomons.

Vanuatu has a lot more resort accommodation and some good eco-lodges, as well as diving facilities.

There are crocodiles in some parts of the Solomons, and numbers have increased since the police had their guns removed after the Ethnic Tensions: prudent to ask.

Both Solomons and Vanuatu use Australian style electrical sockets, which have three square pins with the bottom pair set at an angle. You’ll most likely need at least two adaptors: the best ones are small and compact, and hold the other plug tightly – the sort that accommodate waggly pins are usually too loose so that it all falls apart when charging. Available at Australian airports.

Internet speeds and GSM connections are slow in Solomons. iPhones and messaging usually work, but it’s best to take an old-style unlocked mobile and get a local SIM card if you want a local phone connection.

Skype and FaceTime work from Honiara, but can be erratic. The bigger ACoM schools have their own mobile signals for Wi-Fi, but internet and mobile coverage are otherwise thin outside the centre of Honiara.

Speeds and connectivity are a lot better in Vanuatu; but it’s worth using Wi-Fi for all calls as mobile and landlines are very expensive (in both countries).

Electricity is constantly available in central Honiara, although there can be many power cuts. Outside Honiara, many schools etc have generators, which are often on between 6 and 9.30 pm. It gets dark very quickly. Solar power in being used increasingly, as the price of panels has fallen a lot.

Pre-paid debit cards are by far the simplest and cheapest way to hold and obtain cash in both countries. Much cheaper and simpler than using credit cards, or going into banks to change money (which usually takes several hours!)

These cards can be used in ATMs in town with no difficulty (and no fees). I use one issued by Caxton, but there are several others recommended by Which? and others for low or no fees, e.g. Halifax. You load them with sterling or other major currencies, and can withdraw in local currencies at an ATM, or pay as if it were a normal card for restaurants and hotels. This also means that your money reserves can’t be stolen, and you can top them up online from abroad.

There are several banks with ATMs in the centre of Honiara, as well as in Port Vila and Luganville. Outside these cities, ATMs (and banks) are rare so you will need to withdraw some cash in advance.

ACoM (Anglican Church of Melanesia) is far more dominant in the Solomons than the official statistics suggest. This is because it is less strongly represented in Western province, where the Methodist missionaries arrived first. On an adjusted basis, ACoM must have representation of over 75% of the population in the rest of the country.

But the other sects are catching up quite sharply in Guadalcanal and the main islands, which makes the current Decade of Evangelism and Renewal as launched by ACoM to be so important.

The role of the church in the community is very significant, because its reach is still far stronger than the government’s, as is seen in responses to natural emergencies.

In Vanuatu, ACoM traditionally came behind the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians in terms of numbers; but in the last few years ACoM’s numbers have overtaken those of the Presbyterians who had been more numerous in Efate. Originally ACoM was strongest in the northern islands of Vanuatu – Banks and Torres – but its role across the whole of the country is significantly increased.