John & Rachel from the UK
with Saint Nicholas students (Head Boy & Girl)
My name’s Rachel and I work for St Mary’s Church Upton as a Youth Worker. As part of our ministry we provide the Chaplaincy Team at Woodchurch High School, an exciting opportunity and privilege which we love. Woodchurch High School, a CofE Academy, was lucky enough to develop a partnership with St Nicholas High School in Honiara, Solomon Islands earlier this year. To enrich the link and develop the relationship between the schools, we dreamt of being able to make a personal connection with teachers and students and find a way of bringing the link alive. Our dreams became a reality as we organised a trip for myself and an old Woodchurch student John, who also used to attend St Mary’s (now a freelance film maker and photographer) to travel out to Honaira. We spent two weeks in Honaira meeting staff and students and doing as much filming as we could so, now that we’re back, we can show the pupils at Woodchurch what their partner school looks like, introduce them to life in Honiara and Solomon Island culture.
Neither of us had been to the Pacific before so the whole trip was novel and exciting and we had the most fantastic experience. We were met at the airport by a group of students from St Nicholas School who had prepared frangipani garlands for us and on the drive back into town we chatted and got to know them, whilst trying to take in the environment outside as we drove through Honiara for the first time.
We had a brilliant welcome from the school. In addition to being met at the airport we were also invited for an Opening Ceremony where we were adorned with more garlands and took our seats on the stage of St Nicholas’ open-sided assembly hall. We were introduced to the school and welcomed by the Principle and introduced ourselves, bringing greetings from Woodchurch High School. We were amazed and awed by three groups of students who came and performed cultural dances in traditional dress. The dances were absolutely brilliant and there was a great atmosphere in the Hall; the whole school was enthusiastically cheering and clapping their support of their fellow pupils.
A timetable was organised for us by two teachers at St Nicholas which allowed us to travel around Honiara and Guadalcanal and capture lots of different aspects of life on the Solomon Islands. We also wanted to be able to embed some of the things we filmed into the curriculum for our students here at Woodchurch. So, we visited a Museum and interviewed a local artist so that when Woodchurch students study Art, they will be able to see and think about the kind of art produced in the Solomon Islands. We interviewed a Geography teacher at St Nicholas and several individuals so that when Woodchurch students study Climate Change in Geography, they will be able to see and hear the stories of real people whose lives and homes have been drastically affected by rising sea levels. For History, we visited the American and Japanese War Memorials, Bloody Ridge (the site of an intense battle during the Second World War) and Vilu Museum where many of the artefacts found on Guadalcanal have been taken, including old guns and parts of planes. And we visited and attended many churches and services, so RS students can see the differences and similarities between Christian worship in the Solomons and here in the UK.
We visited Konguli Water Source (which supplies 95% of the capital city with their water) and Point Cruz, Honiara’s busy dock. We wandered round the Central Market and city centre and enjoyed visiting local hotels and watching more performances of traditional dancing (although none was as good as the performance from St Nicholas students!).
In our own time we stayed on Savo Island for a night which was an incredible experience. The volcanic island, about 2 hours boat journey away, is a must-see for visitors to Honiara; it’s a beautiful island on which locals bring up hot water from many of the wells which has been heated by the volcanic activity.
We trekked up to Mataniko Waterfall with a wonderful guide. It was great to get away from the sounds and dust of the city and spend some time in the rainforest and enjoy the natural beauty of Guadalcanal.
We also visited Tabalia, the central Headquarters of the Melanesian Brotherhood, and were there for Palm Sunday which was a great celebration. We attended Evensong on the evening we arrived and were greeted warmly and asked to introduce ourselves at the end of the service; they welcomed us by singing two brilliant songs – the brothers don’t hold back when they sing; the wall of sound that hit us as we stood at the front of the chapel was astonishing. We ate a delicious evening meal with the community of guests who were visiting for the weekend, food prepared by lots of different members of families and friends who often visit Tabalia together. We participated in the Palm Procession, the brothers, novices, priests, and all the guests; men, women and children, had a freshly cut palm branch and palm cross which they wove into the leaves of their branches. There was a great swell of song as the crowd sang in beautiful harmony “Lord we lift up your name, Lord we lift your name on high, Lord we lift up your name! To the king of kings, all glory! Glory, glory to the King of kings! Hosanna, hosanna in the highest!” and clapped, whooped and cheered as we made our way to the chapel for the service.
We had a very comfortable stay in Chester Rest House, run by the Brothers and named after Chester Diocese) and were well looked after by both the school and the Brothers, who helped organise our trip to Tabalia. We had a fantastic two weeks learning about this part of the world, the rich culture and wonderful people. Two weeks wasn’t long enough!
At the end of May we launched the St Nicholas Link at Woodchurch with a number of introductory videos shown in form time and in the year group assemblies every morning for two weeks. We’re excited about what the future of the link holds for the two schools and to see all that can be learnt and shared through our global link.
John & Rachel from Woodchurch School, UK