St Paul’s Chaplain, Reverend Peter Rickman, is on a mission – a medical mission to help those delivering healthcare services in the Solomon Islands.
“The Solomon Islands is a remarkable country. Despite facing many challenges, there is a real desire and commitment to improve the quality of life for themselves and in particular, their children,” says Revd Rickman.
Three years ago, Revd Rickman and a group of people from the Waikato, came together to discuss what they could do to help the island communities. Within that group was Jill Bindon and Anita Seccombe, daughters of Arthur Hugh Fletcher – who left New Zealand in 1927 to go and build a hospital at Fauabo, on the island of Malaita.
This was the first hospital in the Solomon Islands and by 1930 it had over 400 patients. Closed during World War II, but reopened in 1945 – despite the operating theatre being destroyed – it was staffed predominantly by nurses and run as a basic rural health clinic.
“In 2016, Jill and Anita visited the island to see what, if anything, remained of their father’s work. They were amazed to find that it was still operating as a clinic with two nurses and five assistants, serving the needs of some 9,000 Solomon Islanders,” says Revd Rickman.
However, they noted the poor state the hospital was in, with no electricity, no sanitation and buildings in urgent need of repair.
These needs saw the birth of the Solomon Islands Medical Mission (SIMM) supported by Revd Rickman, Archbishop Sir David Moxon, school doctor Dr Michael Oehley, and other local people from the medical and engineering sectors. Together, with partner agencies in the Solomon Islands, work to upgrade and refurbish the hospital begun.
As well as the hospital, SIMM is also supporting a smaller project on the main island of Guadalcanal, on the outskirts of Honiara.
Here, several hundred refugee families, brought over to be plantation workers, live with no shelter – other than a few plastic sheets. The plantations have since disappeared through logging.
On his first visit to the Solomon Islands in 2017, Revd Rickman visited this community and discovered a solitary teacher at work trying to provide very basic education for the children of these refugees.
Through the support of a group of Anglican nuns living nearby, a basic kindergarten was established. The teacher, a Franciscan Brother called Sampson, now supported by three other sisters, provide an education to over 50 children in very difficult circumstances and with few resources.
SIMM supports these two projects through a variety of different ways, including the shipping of medical and educational supplies and the development of projects to aid the creation and provision of refurbishment and sanitation.
“Last May, I was able to return to the Solomon Islands to see how things are progressing,” says Revd Rickman. “My visit was timely as it coincided with the arrival of 21 boxes of medical and educational supplies, donated by local Hamilton businesses. The children were totally blown away to receive their first ever pair of scuffs, their own toothbrush and toothpaste, plus reading and writing books.”
“I also visited the hospital and it was so good to see the first instalment of solar panels, providing much needed electrical power for two of the wards. Prior to installation, babies were being delivered in the night by the nurses wearing head torches!”
However, much work remains to be done. “We aim to develop further the involvement of St Paul’s school community with SIMM and these two projects,” says Revd Rickman.
“Next year we hope to return with a group of students who have an interest in medicine, teaching and building/engineering. I am also working towards recruiting a group of Waikato engineers, medical professionals and other qualified people to return to the clinic and, along with our students, help re-establish basic sanitation and water supply,” he says.
“Our bonds of friendship with the Solomon Islands stretch back over many decades, so it is truly wonderful to see this continue through SIMM and St Paul’s.”