Helpem Fren: Just Another Point of View

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands ( RAMSI) will end on June 30. Image: Department of Defence via James Batly/ASPI.

When we got home from work the other day, my wife and I made plans about witnessing the upcoming RAMSI farewell programs in Honiara.

Our 3 year old son asked, “Dadi, who na RAMSI?”

I told him that RAMSI refers to a group of men and women from other countries in the Pacific who came to help our country.

I wasn’t sure that that was the right explanation but, I just hoped it made some sense to a toddler.

It hit me that evening about the significance of RAMSI that if not all, many of us might have overlooked

The arrival of RAMSI followed a moment in a dark part of history for this country. A time when our society fell to its knees. A time we would not like to turn back the pages to. A time when our world came to a standstill.

As a former student of St. Joseph’s Catholic School, Tenaru, a majority part of my high schooling include observing life in the Hapi Isles wrecking slowly.

I was in form 2 when I heard on the radio about a shooting at Bungana Island, that story hit the headlines and all my friends were talking about it. Whether we understand what and why that had happened, I could not remember, but I guess we just talked about the talk on the grapevine.

That same year, we went home for the mid-year school break and the highlight event was the National Trade and Cultural Show, held at the King George Sixth School sporting grounds. Many of us can reflect back and remember how this event displayed so much unity and cooperation among people of all ages, provinces and different walks of life in the country.

One Thursday afternoon in mid-2000, during our usual sporting day at school, vehicles sped along the road causing attention to most of the students. A few men dressed in rugged, “army-like” clothes approached the school administration building.

On the roadside, some other groups of men stood holding something that looked like pipes in their hand. Having heard through “kokonat nius” that certain groups are using home-made guns, I just concur that they were holding self-made ammunitions.

That same afternoon, one of the teachers approached me with a copy of the Solomon Star Daily. I read in shock the front page headline, “Red Cross boss’ house burnt by militants.” Tears streamed down my face when I learnt that we had lost our childhood home at Kakabona.

Our school was evacuated the next day.

But following an agreement made with the sister school, most of us went to complete our other half of schooling at Bishop Epalle Catholic School.

I remember one afternoon, going home from school, when word on the streets had it that, “iumi peace nao, iumi peace nao!”

Coming out on the main road, there were vehicles with loads of people at the back shouting, “Iumi peace nao!”, “Peeeace!”

Having very close family ties with people from Guadalcanal, I can see many of my friends whom I have not seen for quite a while now, behind the vehicles shouting the name of peace.

There was overwhelmed joy along the streets of Honiara. Ordinary citizens crowded along the streets, shaking hands with every person they meet, friends who reunited hugged each other in tears.

Despite of the separations that had happened between our people over the years, our leaders back then tried their best to put this country back on its feet.

In 2003, Australia led 14 other countries in the Pacific region to be part of a mission to help rebuild our country.

Under the slogan, “Helpem Fren”, they worked hard with the people and our national government to “lay the foundations for long-term stability, security and prosperity”.

Both inside and outside the mission, the members of RAMSI fostered relationships that will last a lifetime.

Many only came as police officers and advisors but left as brothers and/or sisters for many Solomon Islanders.

But like they say, all good things must come to an end.

Though high level of an acronym RAMSI might seem, the mission will close, the operation ‘Helpem Fren’ will end, but the “frenship” that our people have created over the years with our Pacific neighbors will remain.

This is the week when we will close a chapter to a relationship that our forefathers have built over their living years, and for every chapter that is ending, will mean a future we are winning. A future where our children will run freely with their arms open in the air. A future where the dreams of our children today will be possible.

This week will go down in the book of history for Solomon Islands and its people. One that we will share with our children in the future. To tell them how things were back then. To tell them how much we loved our country and how hard we might have fought to make them have a brighter future. To teach them about life and the importance of friendship, love and peace.

I believe RAMSI is not only about rebuilding governance, nor about collecting guns or rebuilding economy, it is also about establishing ties and living the spirit of the Pacific way. The spirit of togetherness and sitting under the coconut tree to share a charcoal-toast fish. That is the core spirit of RAMSI, let us keep it that way.

As Solomon Islanders, many of us grew up from our local, simple societies, around the kastom of respect, kindness and care for our neighbors. A society that is built from our generosity to each other, from our care for each other‘s wellbeing from standing up for our neighbors and friends. This simple, humble and peaceful life is reciprocated, and that is how our societies evolve over the years.

As Solomon Islanders, when a visitor came to our shores, our great hospitality always results in a whole village preparing motu for our visitors to bring back the next day.

Along with the changes of time, over the years, at certain points in our lives, our society may have tripped a little. It may have slipped a little. Our morals may have been questioned and taken for granted at times. But deep down inside each one of us, there lies our true spirit of peace, love and appreciation to life, instilled by our forefathers, by our culture, by both our traditional and religious beliefs.

This week as we reflect back on the mission of RAMSI and when we bid farewell to RAMSI, as ordinary citizens of this beautiful, loving country and as leaders of the world’s “Happiest Isle”, we might want to ask ourselves what we have in store to share with them on their journey home.

What stories will they bring back to their homes? What memories will they take with them? What have they left with us?

On that note, I wish to say my personal thank you to our forefathers who have established ties with our Pacific Island brothers and sisters. You made way for our leaders to easily seek assistance from our neighbors. Thank you to the leaders of the 15 countries who agreed to join hands to help my beloved country. Thank you to the people of Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, PNG, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. You have shown the true spirit of friendship and the Pacific way, our way.

Today, my wife and I may not be able to fully explain to our son “who” RAMSI is. But I know now that it will be possible for him to learn one day about the importance of friendship, love and peace. I know now that it is possible to build a future for my son on the foundation of stability, security and prosperity that you have set. I have confidence that the Pacific region can and will always remain the advocates of peace and love to the world outside.

We are Pacific Islanders. Peace is our way. Hospitality is our kastom.

Farewell RAMSI. Aere ra, Faka’au aa, Tofa la, Ni sa Moce, Kia Monuina, Fa’afetai tele lava, yokwe, Sapo, Tarawong, Haere Ra, Mechikung, so long farewell.

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