Operation RENDER SAFE prepares for White Ribbon Day activities in Solomon Islands

Published on LEUT Tony White (author), ABIS Nicolas Gonzalez (photographer)

Location(s): Honiara, Solomon Islands

Topic(s): White Ribbon Day, Operation RENDER SAFE

Operation RENDER SAFE 2013 personnel including CMDR Doug Griffiths (right) discuss renovations to the Christian Care Centre with Sister Doreen of the Anglican Church of Melanesia. (photo: ABIS Nicolas Gonzalez)
Operation RENDER SAFE 2013 personnel including CMDR Doug Griffiths (right) discuss renovations to the Christian Care Centre with Sister Doreen of the Anglican Church of Melanesia.

As the only domestic violence refuge in Solomon Islands, the Christian Care Centre near Honiara plays an important role in the local community and this role will now be a little easier thanks to the assistance of the Navy-led Operation RENDER SAFE 2013.

The Centre was established by the Sisters of the Anglican Church of Melanesia ten years ago, as a response to the increase in violence against women that accompanied a general increase in violence during what is referred to locally as the “Tension Times.” It was this period of civil unrest that also led to the creation of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

Since 2004, the Centre has been run by the diminutive, but formidable Sister Doreen, who has been nothing short of a force of nature in her support of Solomon Islands’ domestic violence victims, and while she has a reputation for bending the ear of the rich and powerful in support of victims, there is one task that is beyond her and that is clearing the area around the Centre of unexploded ordnance - a legacy of the area’s WWII history. The Centre overlooks the famous Red Beach, immortalised in United States Marine history and the scene of intense fighting during the Guadalcanal campaign.

Sister Doreen explained that it is not unusual for women living at the centre to find unexploded bombs while they are working in the garden or even for children to bring her a decaying but potentially dangerous grenade. It is Sister Doreen’s ambition to provide a safe and secure environment for the women and children who are guests at the centre. She said she was particularly grateful for the assistance of Operation RENDER SAFE in Solomon Islands.

Members of the taskforce are working hard to refurbish parts of the centre as part of their support to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) activities and as part of their commitments to White Ribbon Day. In doing so, the teams are also clearing the surrounding area of WWII explosive remnants of war, still hazardous 68 years after fighting in the region concluded.

Sister Doreen explained that living with the presence of unexploded ordnance is made more risky by some of the necessities of the Melanesian lifestyle. The fertile soils and tropical climate mean that a part of daily village life is the hand clearing of the resilient undergrowth around houses and food gardens. This has traditionally been assisted by the use of fire and as Sister Doreen puts it, “It is perfectly normal for a six or seven year old to light fires as part of the Melanesian way of life.”

Commanding Officer of Operation RENDER SAFE, Commander Doug Griffiths said the use of fire presented an additional risk to local community members.

“This was brought home to Operation RENDER SAFE members the day before we first visited Sister Doreen, when an old US shell exploded during a burn off not far from Sister Doreen’s centre,” Commander Griffiths said.

“We were able to go in and clear a significant number of other shells from that area to reduce risk in future burn offs.”

Commander Griffiths said the work done by Operation RENDER SAFE personnel at the Christian Care Centre was an important part of his mission.

“We are able make land safe to use by the community. It’s also an opportunity for the Task Force to contribute meaningfully to some of the more underprivileged locals.

“We are working on many sites across the country clearing unexploded ordnance, but the opportunity to combine our normal work with the good work of Sister Doreen, supporting the victims of domestic violence, is one that we hope will create a lasting legacy of our presence here,” Commander Griffiths said.

“Both Sister Doreen and I share the commitment to providing a genuinely safe refuge and all the members of our Task Force have shown their enthusiastic support for the project.”

Operation RENDER SAFE 2013 is an enduring Australian Defence Force operation designed to remove the explosive remnants of war from throughout the Pacific region.

The operation includes personnel from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and Solomon Islands. The operation concludes on 7 December.

Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Media Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20132103.