Kiribati Update

Jim Sole

Jim Sole

 Wife’s Perspective

Apprehensive but excited was the best way to describe Jo’s feelings as she prepared to join Jim in Kiribati for the final week of his deployment. Despite having seen many pictures of Jim’s previous trips to Kiribati, she had no idea of what to expect or how she could have input. By the time she had got their two boys (aged 14 and 16 years), organised, the food, the directions and timetable, grandma and neighbours to check on the boys, ensure that the five acres with sheep, dogs and cat were ok, she was ready to leave!

“Bonriki International Airport, Kiribati was amazing; the heat just hit you like a blast from a massive blow heater. Walking across the tarmac, I was scanning all these wonderful smiling faces peering through the wire fence, hoping to see Jim standing there and having this awful feeling because I couldn’t see him. The airport is far from modern, just a large concrete shed to the side of the runway. Believe me, what a feeling of relief when I saw Jim standing inside waiting to meet me. My bags soon appeared on the concrete floor in a big pile, then on through immigration, which is a table in the middle of the shed and that’s it! No fuss – welcome to Kiribati! My first stop
in Kiribati was at the supermarket to stock up on biscuits and Milo for the workshop the next day. Next stop Mary’s Motel, Jim’s home away from home. The motel was basic, but clean and tidy and had all we needed. I was grateful for the hot shower and the air conditioning. The cleaners had been in while Jim was picking me up and the bed was made with clean sheets and what made me smile was the towels had been shaped into two kissing snakes holding a flower between their lips; I could see the cleaners having a wee giggle as they made them. I looked forward every day to seeing what they made next; kissing swans, a Turtle, a hand bag with flowers in it – they were great! I spent the next day at the community workshop that Jim was running. The participants were mostly women from different organisations in Kiribati, but included four men and three Police officers. Unfortunately the power was out when we got there; a generator was soon found so the workshop could get started. They were all so welcoming and treated me like royalty. I believe they found it interesting to see how Jim and I communicated and worked together.  Jim would involve me in the conversations and I was able to give feedback to him as to whether the message was getting through and a woman’s take on things. I was extremely proud of the respect that my husband showed them personally, and their culture, and of the great work he was doing. I spent the next two days helping at the School for Disabled. I was made very welcome and I was grateful that I could help. Resources are limited but the staff are wonderful and do the best that they can with what they have. They have sixty children registered there and about 12 staff members; some are teachers and some teacher aids. The children are there from 9am to 2pm and have a range of
disabilities: deaf, blind, and intellectually and physically disabled. The staff involve them in a range of activities to motivate and encourage communication and extend them to their individual capabilities. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces when they accomplish something we take for granted was a real reality check.

The closing of the community workshop was a real celebration and something the participants take great pride in. They were each awarded a certificate that I had the opportunity to hand out, and it was wonderful to see how proud they were. They appoint a master of ceremonies and basically they are the boss. The MC was a petite Catholic Nun with a bubbly personality and she relished in her position, making them all get up and dance with their certificates.  We had a wonderful feast and we all had to get up and dance to celebrate the end of the workshop. The Nuns who run the Women’s Crisis Centre invited us for lunch the next day and we had a lovely time there. They baked us a cake, which we had to officially cut and they had great pride in their centre and what they were accomplishing. It was unfortunate that Sister Meretina was unwell and unable to be there. After lunch we visited the MBM village and were treated to a performance in their Maneaba of local dancing, and given another feast of local food. They are very serious about preventing domestic violence in their village and are making a real difference. It’s great to see that change can happen and hopefully their message will spread into neighbouring villages.

We attended two functions: at the NZ High Commissioner’s residence and at the Australian High Commissioner’s residence, where I met an amazing array of people from various parts of the world, all with the same agenda of making Kiribati a better place for the Kiribati people. I was extremely proud to hear from many people what a great job my husband was doing and to see the respect shown to him. My trip to Kiribati came to a close far too early, so after a wonderful lunch at the Alcohol Anonymous and Family Recovery Centre run by Sister Theresa, it was off to the airport for start of our journey home.

I was apprehensive about going to Kiribati and very conscious of not wanting to offend anybody or any customs. I was hesitant to ask many of the questions I would have liked to, but the Kiribati people that I met were full of smiles and humour and made me so very welcome. I wish now that I had gone for longer than 6 days, so that I could have experienced more and been able to help more. It will be so much easier when Jim goes back there in the future as I can now visualise where he is and understand his desire to improve the safety of these wonderful people. I’m so glad that I was given the opportunity to experience their culture and hope to return there in the future, but for now I will have fond memories of the people I met in Kiribati.”

Jo James-Sole
Wife of Kiribati Mentor, Senior Sergeant James-Sole

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