Visit to Valasi


Seventeen volunteers, mostly Adventist Media Network (AMN) employees, travelled to a remote area of the Solomon Islands for a fly ‘n’ build last month. The plan was simple—build two classrooms/dormitories for the local school. The journey there, however, was far from straightforward.

Valasi, located in the mountains of east Guadalcanal, boasts a terrific climate, spectacular views and a number of beautiful little villages. To reach the high-top haven, the team had to endure an overnight voyage on a noisy boat; a half-hour “hang-on-for-dear-life” truck ride; and a six-hour walk.

It really is amazing what you can do with a couple of saws and some hammers and some determined workers.

The walk itself was a combination of traversing rivers (up to 50 times) and climbing mountains, leaving little wonder as to why only two “white” men had ever made the journey before, and why ADRA Solomon Islands had described the project as the hardest fly ‘n’ build ever attempted in the country.

Hikers get ready for the long trek out of Valasi.

“The walk in was incredibly difficult,” said Pastor Lyle Southwell, director of the Discover Centre at AMN and one of the leaders on the trip. “None of us slept well on the boat the night before, and walking for six hours in the heat with nothing but muesli bars and coconuts to keep you going was really tough.”

“It was the hardest walk of my life,” said AMN graphic designer Lulu Lewis. “On a few occasions, the villagers who were helping us literally dragged me across the river. But when we reached the top it was definitely worth it.”

The central village of Valasi features a few traditional houses, two modern buildings—a clinic and a nurses’ residence—as well as a school. With the school being the only one in the area, some students walk two to three hours (one way) just to attend. 

During their 13-day visit, the volunteers worked with a couple of local ADRA builders to construct two new buildings to serve as both classrooms for the school, and dormitories for the furthest-travelling students. Few in the group had any building experience, but that didn’t stop every member of the team from chipping in on the construction.

Villagers and the AMN team in front of one of the new classrooms.

“The team were fantastic, everyone worked well together, despite the lack of building experience,” said AMN Business Service director Kalvin Dever, who served as one of the building team leaders. “It really is amazing what you can do with a couple of saws and some hammers and some determined workers.”

A lack of timber prevented the buildings from being fully completed. There were, however, other successes. The team also provided medical and spiritual services to the local people. Nurse Claire Baldacchino—who celebrated her second wedding anniversary with husband Jason at Valasi—offered daily health talks and medical checks, while Pastor Southwell and a team of Bible workers carried out devotions every morning and evening.

Perhaps the biggest drawcard—other than the strange-looking visitors themselves—were the videos. Technology is non-existent in Valasi, so cartoon Bible stories and Beyond: the Search episodes, shown via a solar-powered projector, drew instant fascination. “There was obviously a language and theological barrier,” said Pastor Southwell, “but they loved the videos because they kind of knew the Bible stories, and they also loved Beyond because it was stuff they’d never seen before.”

Pastor Lyle Southwell speaks to the local villagers with the help of a solar-powered projector.

Despite the team’s achievements—which included bringing the first “white” women to the region—of greater significance was the opportunity to spend time with the villagers, particularly the local Adventist school teacher and his family.

For four years, Caleb Ripo and his wife Jalenta have been working to share the Adventist message with the predominately Catholic mountain region. Caleb admitted having a team of Adventists come to the area would go a long way in helping his family reach out to the people.

Fast friends: Lydia Timms from Western Australia with two local children.

Click here to learn more about Caleb’s work in Valasi.

A documentary on the AMN team’s experience will air on Hope Channel in early 2014.

Linden Chuang is assistant editor-digital.