-  Magic in the air  -

January 25, 2012

Jerusalem architect Aaron Weingrod returns from Solomon Islands. This is his second assignment with Tag. In mid-November he travelled to Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka to design an agricultural training centre. Now he and Senior Tag Programme Managers Yoel Siegel and Shaike Stern are back from Solomon Islands. This time, Aaron was charged with creating the plans for an agro-education demonstration farm, fish farms, and mini-industrial parks.

Aaron writes:

My colleague Yoel Siegel who invited me to take part in this mission didn’t reveal the half of it. Words cannot describe the unique situations we faced and the true bond I felt with the people we were working with. On his previous trips, Yoel had managed to set all this in motion. There was true magic in the air in those 10 days in the Solomon Islands.

I have met a proud and genuine people, with an amazing culture with roots in the Holy Land. I was so impressed by the level of education, intelligence, humility and enthusiasm in all those we met along the way.

And when I say “met,” here’s an example of how we were received: In the north and south we were greeted by the tribes “mock defending their land” with bows, arrows, spears and machetes, and conch shells being blown in the background. Then we were given wreaths of orchids and led to the village hand in hand with women singing songs, some local, some gospel songs, with all the villagers watching and smiling on the sidelines.

There is such an abundance of fruit, vegetables and fish around, that there is no major famine or disease. Everyone looks healthy and can easily “get by” the way things are. This I feel may be harmful rather than an asset. We learned that according to local custom one is supposed to supply money, jobs or food to relatives, free of charge, and often businesses fail because of this.

Still, I have traveled the globe quite a bit and rarely have I encountered a group of people who have impressed me like the Solomon Islanders from Malaita Province. They truly want to take the first big step out of the bush and develop, and hope that these Tag projects will bring jobs and opportunities to young Malaitans who are leaving the island for Guadalcanal in search of work. There is great tourism potential here as well, because of the unspoiled, natural beauty, bird watching, surfing, crocodile worship… So long as the beauty remains!

As for my work, I “walked the land” that I was to design, asked many questions and received very good answers. There was lots of discussion and with photos and a survey I was able to get to work on 40 hectares for the Kadabina demonstration farm, industrial park and fish farm. I produced sketches that were shared with all parties, received their feedback in real time, took notes, and made revisions. After compiling all the data with the tribes and landowners on site, I photographed the hand-drawn master plan of the farm on my iPhone, sent it to my colleagues in my office in Jerusalem, and received it two days later in computerized form as a Power Point presentation that I was able to share with the islanders. Unspoiled perfection married cutting edge technology!

The first project in Kadabina in the north (a demonstration farm and industrial park) HAS TO SUCCEED so that the enthusiasm I saw on the island will be sustained. It has to create the example of turning around the area economically as quickly as possible.

I have to mention Leliana, the Hon. Israeli Consul, who has such amazing grace and proved himself a master of logistics, getting us around (despite a few close calls). The Malaita provincial government, from the PM on down, was truly supportive of all our endeavors, and made things happen on the ground whenever needed. Shaika Stern, a Tag Programme Manager who previously worked with MASHAV, was a delight to be with, and I learned much from his travel and agricultural experiences. His knowledge of agricultural farming and different methods from around the world is inspiring.

Yoel Siegel, Tag’s Senior Programme Manager, has been in Solomon Islands four times over the past two years and set in motion the Malaita Chazon Authority (MCA) – the development company that is implementing the new Tag-assisted projects in Malaita Province, that include disaster preparedness, agricultural development and mini-enterprise centres. Along with the local tribes, the government and land owners, this company, similar to the Jerusalem Development Company, will be also running the new wharf and market being built today.

Yoel has created a truly inspiring environment of new development projects with the local provincial government, and a feeling among the islands’ population of a new beginning for work and prosperity. He is truly a “mover and a shaker” and it was exciting, (and exhausting!) to try to match his pace.

I am exceedingly grateful for the rare opportunity to experience the Solomon Islands and be part of this unique venture.

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