You don’t have to be very far into a conversation about caring for the earth and the challenge of climate change to experience a sense of being overwhelmed. The reality is that our earth is increasingly bearing the cost of humanity’s poor stewardship, and the vulnerability of Pacific Island nations like Solomon Islands highlights the challenges we face as a global community and the need for urgent action. As Christians, we are compelled to face these challenges with hope and action, which is exactly what Holland Sikou is doing.
In the city of Honiara, in the heart of Solomon Islands, a local champion called Holland Sikou is leading a team that brings solar lights and new income opportunities to rural families in the face of a changing climate.
In his early 20s, Holland played the world game for his country. Playing for his club team and representing his country was a great honour for Holland, but it was an injury and the realisation that he wanted to help his fellow Solomon Islanders that was the catalyst for him turning his attention to solar energy.
Since 2011, Holland has been providing solar lights in rural communities in the provinces of Ysabel, Makira, Malaita, and Central Solomons as the Solar Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Melanesia’s Bringing Light to Rural Families project. So far this project has transformed the lives of more than 5,000 people, thanks to people like Holland and the support of Australian aid and development agency, Anglican Overseas Aid.
Solar lighting is also providing other benefits in Solomon Islands. The main impact has been to eliminate reliance on expensive kerosene in all project areas. This has reduced financial pressure on families, especially on women who are frequently responsible for funding household costs. Women have also reported a significant increase in their sense of safety after installing solar lights in their homes.
Annie, a local Mothers’ Union member, said,
“Before I had solar I would use a torch and light dry coconut leaves at night to do my market preparation for the next day. But solar helps the family a lot. Also it has reduced the cost of running a hurricane lamp, and I don’t need to buy a torch or batteries. As a mother I used to worry that I would run out of cash and not have money to pay kerosene for light in the evening. Now I know the solar light will be there even if it has been rainy, the light still shines bright. I am also able to earn an income from selling solar lights in my community.”
Holland is excited that the project is meeting a great need in Solomon Islands. “Solar lights became very popular about five or six years ago,” he says. “Solar is excellent technology. At the beginning it was very expensive, so the churches made the decision to be involved with the project, because communities could not access the lighting because of its high cost.”
Holland Sikou installing solar panels on the roof of a school in Solomon Islands.
Holland’s role focuses on coaching others in the installation and maintenance of solar technology. The community is learning how to maintain and fix solar lights to ensure the solar lighting lasts as long as possible and to reduce waste - all contributing to a cleaner environment. Some people earn a small income by offering maintenance services to friends and family. Just like soccer, it’s a team sport.
The desire to improve the lives of his fellow Solomon Islanders comes from Holland’s deep Christian faith. “That is the driving force behind me,” he says. “I prioritise people’s needs. They are my brothers and sisters. They deserve to have these opportunities.”
Holland’s story is an inspiration to us all who seek to live out our faith by protecting and restoring God’s beautiful creation. While our own homes may not be facing the same immediate risk as Holland’s, we have the same responsibility to boldly act to address our changing climate by advocating to our political leaders, committing ourselves to renewable energy and as a nation moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels which are driving the worst impacts on our climate.
For Holland, it’s a long way from kicking a soccer ball around for his country, but whether through soccer or solar, he’s still a champion. May we learn from his example, and stand with him as our brother in addressing the impacts of climate change in our region.
Nils von Kalm is a Christian writer and works for Anglican Overseas Aid, a Christian aid and development organisation working in countries like Solomon Islands to help build a just and sustainable future for communities living in poverty.