Participatory research at Lord Howe Settlement

My day started with a church service at the Lord Howe Settlement, home to the majority of the Ontong Javanese migrants in Honiara. I had not been to a church service for a while, but one thing that struck me was the energy that members of the community put into their singing. To my own surprise, I really enjoyed it.

Following the service, a community breakfast had been organised, again accompanied by beautiful music and singing. Unfortunately, I had to actually do some work – otherwise I would have happily spend the whole day just listening to the music, watching kids play and taking a dip in the sea.

The plan for my work today was to learn about how people in the community as well as their relatives on Ontong Java had been impacted by extreme events and changes in the environment over time. With the help of Fr Nigel Kelaepa and Sheila Townshend, I ran a historical timeline and trend analysis workshop, in which the oldest members of the community shared their insights about past cyclones, flooding events and earthquakes as well as the resulting consequences for the settlement. Furthermore, the group identified long-term environmental changes and their impacts in both Ontong Java and their own settlement.

Analysing the data from the workshop will probably take a few months, but one thing has already become clear: Ontong Java and Lord Howe Settlement could not be more different from each other, but they are both faced with significant risk of flooding and erosion as well as the problem to sustain rapidly growing populations.

Following the participatory workshop with the elders, I talked to several people in leaderahip positions about key challenges for their community and their relatives who still remain on Ontong Java. One issue that came up in all the conversations was the need for future relocation. Currently, solutions for both the people in the Lord Howe Settlement as well as their relatives on Ontong Java are lacking and will have to be developed in collaboration with the Solomon Islands Government.

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