I have significant change in my life coming up as I exit from the Public Sector at the end of September so I can focus on Makira Gold. This morning I remembered a letter I formally wrote to my two Uncles in early 2015, they are the leaders of our tribe in Makira, Solomon Islands. My late grandfather was our tribal chief and as the eldest son of his eldest son, I would traditionally have inherited this role, however circumstances with me not living there make that impractical.
This letter signified my intentions to support our tribe and community with a cacao social enterprise.
(I have removed the names of my children)
Dear Uncle Alick and Uncle Peter,,
I write to you to inform you that I will be returning to Tawatana in mid December later this year to visit my family, reconnect with our village and community, and discuss my ongoing support for our family and community into the future.
Firstly, please accept my sincere apologies for the long time since my last visit in 2007, when grandfather Basil Bunaon’e passed away
I often think fondly of our family and Tawatana, and regret that my responsibilities with my small family and my work in Brisbane keeps me away.
With my wife Meredith, whom I married in the village in 2004, I have a beautiful family with three young children, my 8 year old son Z, 6 year old daughter M and my 4 year old son, E. I will bring some photos of them for you when I visit in December.
I have not been completely absent from the Solomons, for nearly 2 years I made a number of short trips to Honiara to volunteer my skills and experience in supporting an important Health program to protect Solomon Islands women from Cervical Cancer. This has been a complex project, in which my mother and I have been working with the World Health Organisation, Ministry of Health and Medical Services, and other organisations. I am pleased to advise that we have made excellent progress and earlier this year the Solomon Islands government launched a small vaccination program in Honiara for girls to be protected from Cervical Cancer later in life. This is the same vaccine that protects girls in over 90 countries around the world such as Australia and New Zealand. I hope that in a few years, the program will extend to protect our girls in Makira.
Mum was also working with the Ministry of Health and Family Planning Australia to start a new project to screen and treat women in the provinces and villages with early stages of Cervical Cancer. This may be a number of years away from reaching West Makira, but planning this project is the important first step.
Protecting our girls and women from Cervical Cancer is a very important project for me, as our own aunties have passed away from this terrible disease. I remember when my dear cousin Rex Tarani visited Brisbane about 15 years ago for a journalism course, and spent much time on the phone talking with his mother who was very sick at the time in the late stages of cervical cancer.
Working in Australia and London over the past 15 years has given me many skills and experience, and I have established a strong network of professional contacts. During stages of my working career I have been a Director responsible for up to 90 staff within the QLD public service with important responsibilities. Recently one of my projects was a finalist for the Australian eGovernment awards, and I travelled to Sydney for the presentation. When I visit I will bring a photo of myself receiving the finalist certificate from a Member of Parliament at the awards ceremony in Sydney.
The more I experience and read about many local and global issues, the more I realise that the way of life that we have in Makira and the Solomons is precious and must be preserved for our children, grandchildren and their children. Many parts of the world have lost their connection to their land, their environment and their culture, and although they may have money they are not happy and do not have a purpose.
Although we must maintain our culture and land, we must also think about how to connect and prosper in the new global world – and what our place is in it. We are no longer just influenced by our neighbouring villages and islands, but also what is happening in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Asia, the the European Union and other countries.
We must create opportunities for our children, so that they have a choice for their lives. They may wish to remain in Tawatana, or they may wish to leave, or come back and forth – but we must provide them with choices and opportunities. Other than standard healthcare and education, a key differentiator between our children in the village and children in more prosperous countries such as Australia is that children in these prosperous countries have choices in what they do with their lives.
To support our children, families and communities I intend to invest in creating agricultural-based business opportunities in and around Tawatana, initially with Cacao production . I plan to support and strengthen our local cacao industry so that local families are able to gain a sustainable income from maintaining small farms of cacao trees, and that other locals are employed in areas such as fermentation, drying, transport and storage of cacao. Initially, through my cousin Roni Maxwell, I have started with buying cacao from local farmers and selling it in Honiara. Overtime we will look to see how our community of local farmers can improve yields and maximise profits from chocolate.
I call the business “Makira Gold”, which is symbolic of our rich and fertile land in Makira – the foundation of an agricultural business. I am also fortunate enough to have the support of some Australian business consultants, who are excited by the prospect of providing their experience to mentor and guide an agricultural social business that is committed to positive cultural and social outcomes.
When I arrive in Tawatana with my dad George Atkin in December, I hope to meet with you and other family stakeholders to make plans for using our families and available land resources to provide financial opportunities for the family.
I look forward to my visit and seeing you in December.