I completed a Community Health Evangelism Course in December 2009, which sparked my interest and stirred my heart for such "developing" nations. This stirring came from a realisation that living in Australia had sheltered and protected me. The news and media stories on poverty and war were presented so much, that I had perhaps become hardened to the reality of the situation. I thought there was not much I could do about this seemingly cataclysmic issue.
According the the World Health Organisation, the shocking truth is that over half the world live in poverty (approximately 3 billion) and 1.2 billion of that figure live in extreme poverty (living on less than US$1 per day). Poverty creates ill-health as it forces people to live in environments that make them sick, without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation.
Community Health Evangelism (CHE) is a true-best-practices model for integrating evangelism and discipleship with community based development. Communities in any cultural setting are encouraged to identify their own problems of health, education, agriculture, micro-enterprise, and then create their own solutions for these problems. The first programs were done in Africa in the 1980s and was then taken to other parts of the world where it proved adaptable to a wide-range of situations.
Today CHE is used around the world by churches, mission agencies, non-government organisations, and national and local governments to lift whole communities out of cycles of poverty and disease. (www.chenetwork.org)
One of the CHE Course presenters was an Australian living in the Solomon Islands, sent out from my home church, and also attending was the Principal of the Mercy Learning Centre near Honiara (Solomon Islands capital). With an invitation from the Principal to go and help at the Learning Centre, I decided this was an opportunity to experience a developing nation and observe how this model can be utilised.
Seven months later, with some resources for the school (donated by friends and family) and a basic program for our time there, we flew out across the ocean, not knowing what to expect nor what we would experience.
Upon arriving I was initially overwhelmed by the number of adults and children wandering around outdoors; the heat and smell stagnant in the air; the number of taxi's and buses (mini-van's) on the streets and the incredible amount of betel nut for sale and being chewed by many in the community. Betel nut is the seed growing from the Areca palm in most tropical countries. When chewed with other substances, it becomes a mild stimulant. Unfortunately for possibly more than 4,000 years it has been a tradition in many Pacific island and Asian countries. Regular betel nut chewing causes; teeth and gum staining, mouth ulcers and gum deterioration; and a higher risk of acquiring cancer of the mouth and stomach.
We managed a holiday program for the children, bringing recorders and teaching them some basic songs; playing games with balloons and skipping ropes, painting, singing with them, and communicating the best way we could with some English songs and broken Pidgin (their native language)!
What I soon recognised was that my organisation and order for teaching were non-viable. From what I could ascertain it appeared as though there was no sheet music in the Solomon Islands, so instructing music by this method proved useless. Astonishingly, singing a song to the students had them playing it straight back to me on the recorder!
The Mercy Learning Centre started in 2005 with 75 children who were unable to read or write. The school, which was built in a squatter settlement, and a preceding No-Go Zone of former militants, now has over 400 students. The first classroom was held under a mango tree. Currently there are 6 classrooms and world-wide organisations, individuals, families and groups donate time, resources and some even money for the further development of the school. Before the school had been established, these children spent their days picking their way through rubbish at the Ranadi dump.
I noted many things about the children after spending a week in their school environment. Their level of personal hygiene is very low, malaria constantly affects the young and the old, they have no clean drinking water (except from the tank at the school), rubbish lines their waterways and streets, many nurse open wounds and runny noses.
The children are very shy and walk around in small groups, the older caring for and disciplining the younger ones with a hit on the head or a push. The food they eat is low in nutritional value, generally from the western influence and provision of cheap bulk items like noodles, lollies, soft drinks and other processed foods. The education of the health risks in these foods is lacking. They have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables which I found more tasty and divine than our fruit and vegetables here in Australia. Time is not of essence in this nation, and the lack of 'western life style stress' was evident. For non-natives, this could prove frustrating.
With over half a million people in the Solomon Islands, which spread across 347 of their 922 islands, this beautiful country has so much going for it's future. 2003 was the last year of civil unrest, more children are being educated, awareness has risen of the need to improve infrastructure, strategic health plans are being implemented, tourism remains steady, and the political independence of the country also seems to be gaining strength.
As an individual, it can be overwhelming not knowing how exactly we can help other countries reach these their goals in these issues. There are 'small things' we can do to help "better the lives" of those less fortunate. Sponsoring children in food, education and housing programs and visiting and inputting time/resources into already established work are just two ways we can help.
Matthew 25:40 "....Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." - resonates with me as I process the reasons for helping others in poverty stricken living.
By improving the living conditions and quality of life for others, we are being the hands and feet of Jesus.