The COVID-19 Pandemic, needless to say, is having a huge impact on the lives of people, families, communities and the nation, as it is globally. At the outset, the State of Emergency placed on the country, as declared by His Excellency the Governor General Sir David Vunagi and the Prime Minister Honourable Manasseh Sogavare, at very short notice awakened all citizens of the danger ahead. On the one hand it prompts people to take immediate action to safeguard lives, but at the same time the hasty decisions made by many town dwellers to be repatriated to their home islands, has caused death and many other challenges that will affect them in the long run.
This involved scaling down of services by the Government, Diplomats, Private Sectors, Churches, Non-Government and many Civil Societies. The prime issue here is the reduction of employees that involves either termination of employment or reduction of wages/salaries until the nation is declared safe in July 2020. Families of those concerned are badly affected and it will take a long time for them to settle down again.
There was the call by the Prime Minister at the outset when the State of Emergency was declared for citizens to be repatriated to their home islands in order to reduce the number of people living in the capital city, Honiara. Our Culture of one-talk is embedded with the praxis of overcrowding of homes in the city and in the event where the virus arrives in the country, it will spread very fast because of such situations in many homes. It was for this reason that repatriation was called for. However, when the mass exodus of citizens back to the islands took place, there is also over-crowding brought to homes in the islands and shortage of food might become an issue very soon. Many have raised their concerns on this because they have not planned to produce enough food for such unexpected crowds.
Secondly, in cases where hasty decisions were made, we lost 27 lives at sea when a passenger boat repatriated people to Malaita during Cyclone Harold in April. Those who died were washed into the ocean and were drowned when a huge wave hit the boat. Only seven bodies were found, and the rest are still missing today. Most of them were students who unfortunately were excited to go home, only then to lose their lives. The Government and the Church are still dealing with the survivors’ parents, guardians and relatives, helping them with their trauma and grieving.
Since the closure of the schools across the country on March 23rd, all children have been staying at home, while those who only study in the capital return to their homeland. The Solomon Island Government (SIG) announced all classes to resume on May 25th. In Honiara, though no COVID-19 cases are confirm, all schools still apply social distancing, so classes are split and pupils come to school on different days. So, I would say children and students attending schools in Honiara have had their learning affected, while those schoolings in the islands, classes have resume.
In terms of food security, families living in the capital are encouraged to engage in Food Management Programmes. It is understood that in the long run the economy of the country will be affected badly, and so growing our own edible crops is highly encouraged as a way to address the post-COVID era.
The government has distributed vegetable seeds and nurseries to town dwellers and stakeholders, including ACoM. The clergy in all the dioceses were made aware of their roles, should the deadly virus be confirmed in the country. In the meantime, all are expected to be alert and listen carefully on the radio and different media outlets for updates from the government regarding COVID-19.
The Mothers’ Union members, their programmes and activities at the grassroots level are continuing as usual, except for the Provincial Office (PMU), Honiara Parishes and the diocesan offices. However, other MU members in Honiara lately have reached out to satellite members and run cooking lessons on preparing simple breakfast and meals. The result was excellent as it brings women together by sharing their cooking skills with one another in such a time. Truly it promotes Christ’s love and care in his mission.
Overall, families and the church as a whole are embracing the situation of COVID-19 with nothing but continuous prayer for guidance. For whatever may happen we will put it all in God’s hands. It is also a time to reflect on our daily lives that nothing is permanent, but always to seek the mind of God as we continue to share this life with Christ Jesus.
Love in God’s Service
Pamela Abana, Provincial President, Mothers’ Union Office, Honiara, Solomon Islands