Ryan Lucas volunteered as a Cricket Development Officer at the Solomon Islands Cricket Association as part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative. Register for an information session to find out how you can get involved.
Two hundred and thirty excited school children. Three cricket bats, nine tennis balls, six sets of cricket wickets. A school hall no larger than a tennis court. My two workmates, Bobby and David, turn to me to ask what is our plan for the afternoon? “Hmmm…” I thought out aloud. None of my training really prepared me for this!
Six months before, I stepped off a plane in Honiara, Solomon Islands, and was greeted by a wall of heat and humidity. ‘This is home for the next 12 months, so embrace it’, I immediately thought to myself. It was good advice as it turns out. I was about to undertake a 12 month assignment as a Cricket Development Officer with the Solomon Islands Cricket Association and I was excited for the adventure that was ahead.
I had recently finished studying to become a Physical Education teacher, though I wasn’t quite ready to commit myself to the classroom. A cricket lover at heart, I had for a long time hoped to volunteer in international development, and was looking for a more unique challenge. What’s that old saying though -be careful what you wish for?
When I arrived in country, cricket was very much in its infancy, and in need of a significant boost. The Solomon Islands Cricket Association had no employees of its own, no offices, one cricket field and pitch to work with, and some senior and junior equipment, of varying quality. . There were no cricket programs conducted in schools or communities, and the bones of a senior competition lay to one side. There was also a multitude of questions being asked by seasoned aid workers about what cricket could realistically contribute to long-standing development challenges. Being a competitive sportsperson, I had a point to prove, and I accepted the challenge.
With staff from my Australian Partner Organisation, the International Cricket Council (ICC) East Asia Pacific Development Program, we went about identifying a number of key challenges to cricket development, and begun to put strategies in place to tackle them. Given that cricket is a well-established sport in many countries across the Pacific, and since our Melanesian neighbours in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu were currently first and second in the region, there was plenty of optimism for what could be achieved.. Further, given the significant contributions that cricket has made in these countries by providing sporting opportunities for young people, promoting gender equality, breaking down barriers for people with disabilities and providing health education for young people, there was huge potential and opportunities to be capitalised upon.
Within six weeks of my arrival, cricket had secured a major sponsor for the ‘Pikinini Cricket’ schools program, which would make a significant contribution to purchasing equipment and providing access to schools across the capital, Honiara. Within another six weeks, Cricket Solomon Islands had proudly recruited two new staff members, who would be trained to lead cricket programs, and carry on the work of the organisation once my time here was completed. Partnerships with local non-government organisations were being established. The ‘Pikinini Cricket’ program had been launched across four schools in Honiara, and things were looking good. Too good perhaps.
Then, the rainy season struck. Tropical depressions drenched the country with torrential rain, wiping out weeks of cricket programming. A dengue outbreak landed me in hospital and out of action for a number of weeks. Members of the cricket committee were beginning to finish their time in country and were heading back to their home countries, leaving the Solomon Islands Cricket Association very depleted. The effects of ‘Solomon Time’ were beginning to be felt. The honeymoon period had apparently ended!
It was time to revisit the reasons why I came to Solomon Islands to get a clearer picture. My assignment stated that I was to promote cricket participation, gender equality, and leadership among local players. It became quite clear to me that before any of this could take place, in order to ensure the sustainability of my work, building a stable organisation was what was first needed. Bobby, David and I set about legally registering our organisation, gaining National Olympic Committee and National Sports Council accreditation, and securing office space. As well as this, the benefits of our sponsorship began to come through, as we received our shipments of Pikinini Cricket equipment and the portable pitch that we had ordered, allowing us to equip schools with equipment and access communities with limited sporting facilities. We were set to launch.
At the nine month mark of my assignment, the future for cricket in Solomon Islands is bright. To date, we have seen over 3000 participants come through our programs, and we are set to launch both the in-school and senior competitions towards the end of the year. We have provided an exciting employment opportunity for two young Solomon Islanders, who continue to promote the game to the local population. The Solomon Islands Cricket Association is rebuilding its committee, and has the structures in place to operate as a sustainable organisation. We have received significant financial support from local businesses, as well as generous donations of equipment from Cricket Australia, Cricket Victoria, and Melbourne based charity, Cricket4Kids, which provides used cricket equipment to developing cricket programs worldwide. Within the next 12 months, Solomon Islands is hoping to make a bid for ICC Affiliate membership, gaining recognition from the world’s governing body, which would be an enormous achievement.
The Australian Volunteers for International Development Program has provided me with an amazing opportunity to contribute to the development of a unique sporting program, which has the potential to have a positive impact on the lives of many Solomon Islanders. I have managed to help introduce the game of cricket to hundreds of people throughout Honiara, providing a unique sporting opportunity and putting smiles on hundreds of young faces. I am now looking forward to my next challenge, and am thankful for the experience that I have gained. So, 230 kids in one session, with limited staff, space and equipment? No worries!
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