Delivering in the remotest islands: Tikopia

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William Kesi
Because boats to and from Tikopia are infrequent, William Kesi had to wait a couple of months before he could leave the island.

William Kesi had to hitch a ride with a passing cruise ship to get from Tikopia back to Lata, the capital of Solomon Islands’ easternmost province, Temotu. William is a community helper with the Solomon Islands Rural Development Program (RDP), which uses community driven development to support small-scale community infrastructure. The program was officially launched in 2008, and is supported by Solomon Islands Government, AusAID, European Union, IFAD, and the World Bank. Now in its third cycle of grants, the program is beginning to reach not only the more densely populated areas of the six main islands of the country, but also some of the most remote and underserved communities in the country.

Arguably the most remote of the Solomon Islands, Tikopia lies at the eastern edge of the country. Only five square kilometers, with less than 1,000 inhabitants, the island community was the subject of the 1936 anthropological study We, the Tikopia. Polynesian, a minority in largely Melanesian Solomon Islands, Tikopia has maintained the customary system of chiefly governance and has only infrequent contact with the formal state.

Map of Tikopia
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons through a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

To get to Tikopia takes three days by boat from Lata or five days by boat from the country’s capital in Honiara. William normally works in Santa Cruz, the main island of Temotu, and the Duff Islands as a community helper, but went to Tikopia in end of December to work with the community on identifying a priority project.

Among other things this required accommodating both chiefly authority and RDP’s participatory approach, with the end result a school reconstruction and water supply project. Since boats only go once a month or less, William waited nearly two months for another ship before the cruise ship, which he described "as big as land" offered him a ride as far as Utupua, from where he could get another ride back to Lata.

Travel is not only long but hazardous—Temotu is in the Pacific’s cyclone belt and subject to frequent and sudden changes of weather, with sometimes tragic results—such as the  case in 2010 of an engineer and crew lost after journeying to one of the remote islands. If the RDP subproject for the Tikopia community is approved, the RDP community helper will head back to start working with the community on their next challenge—purchasing supplies and getting them to Tikopia!


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