Books to Schools on Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands

From the Bulletin 19th September 2013

Bob McCaw (left) and Peter Sugden (right) made a private visit to the island of  Vella Lavella in the Solomon Islands to visit the WW2 battlegrounds where Peterís father had commanded the NZ Army 37th Battalion in action against the Japanese in 1943-44. They visited schools and talked with students. They were struck by the lack of educational resources and resolved to do something to help.

The proposal was to seek Primary School readers and reader/writing material from Hawkeís Bay Primary School that has these materials but no longer required them, and were prepared to donate books that could then be  sent to the Marivari and Boro Primary Schools, two schools on the island of Vella Lavella closely associated with the war effort of the 37th Battn. Following their visit to the Vonunu High School they also decided to collect NZ Level 2 text books, suitable for the students studying for their South Pacific Form 6 Certificate. The High School of Vonunu is the only secondary school on the island.

Andrew Wiig offered his commercial building for initial storage and the Air Force was approached to see if they would be able take the books up to the Solomonís on a Hercules flight. At the same time, David Conroy approached to assist with freight to Whenuapai and Bob got in touch with his contacts in the Islands to get their assistance.

Approaching Vonunu Secondary School, September 2012

Bulletin 28 Nov 2013

Half a dozen members turned out to help with a final pack for the year. There is little chance of sending the books off before the end of the year. With the Philippines cyclone disaster, the NZ Defence Forces have probably been fully stretched for this year. Hereís hoping we may get them off before the end of March next year. We need to remember Jan-April is historically cyclone season in the Solomonís. Itís the seeding area for the beasts in this sector of the world.

To date we have packed 40 cartons, and still have books to pick up from Taradale High School and St. Johnís College, where the husband of Peter Sugdenís niece, Neil Swindell, is the Principal. Neil has recently been appointed Principal of St. Pats (Town), Wellington, but before leaving he has organized some books for us. Much of the material sorted on Saturday was done to eliminate material we call "Kiwi imperialism". We are trying to avoid sending material which is overtly directed towards the Kiwi learning processes, so we discarded material about Maori history and way of life, European history, etc. What we did find that was suitable, was material relating to Pacific history and Island ways of life. To all the schools who have contributed learning and reading material we owe a huge thanks.

Addressing Form 6 (Year 12) students at Vonunu

Teachers Mabel & Chrystal with pre-school infants at the school of Marivari

Pre-schoolers playing on the road built by soldiers of the

NZ 2nd Division based in Marivari 1943

The first collection from Henry Hill Primary School

A huge supply of primary readers and teaching materials have been donated to the project by Henry Hill Primary School.

On the left, Frank Crotty and Peter Sugden gather the books and teaching materials from the school with the help of school pupils Dayna (L) and Tyra Lee(R)

Frank and Peter load Peters trailer.

Taking the books to temporary storage in Adrian Wiigs shed in Onekawa

Project Development

In 2012, Bob McCaw finally responded to Peter Sugden's request that they organise a trip to the island of Vella Lavella, an island in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. Bob had extensive work experience in the country and had a number of contacts within the Ministry of Education. In particular was Moffat Wasuka, who worked with Bob at SPBEA for 7 years before retiring back to Honiara in the Solomons in 1997.In 2010, Bob asked Moffat if he could help with the planning of the journey to get Peter to Vella Lavella. Moffat was a vital contact and he put them in touch with Kuve Marlon on the island of Gizo.Kuve offered to organise the tour to the WW2 battle areas, providing outboard motorboat transport, a guide and boat captain. This proved a very satisfactory arrangement and lead to a successful trip. Bob travelled with Peter and his son Paul, to film the visit, and at the end they visited two schools; a secondary school at Vonunu, and a primary school at Marivari.

As a result of these visits, they returned home, determined to organise suitable school reading material and text books for the schools they had visited.

Moffat Wasuka and Bob McCaw.

Honiara 24 October 2012

Peter and Bob, as members of their  Rotary Club's Foundation committee, proposed the book project and this was put to Directors in August 2013. The Rotary Club of Taradale enthusiastically embraced the idea despite the difficult logistics in getting a large consignment of books to an offshore island with no direct air of sea services. It was clear the books would have to be shipped by ferry to Gizo, a popular place for divers and tourists, but still 20km from Vella Lavella. Kuve Marlon was very keen on the idea and promised to distribute books from Gizo to schools on Vella, provided his costs were met. There remained the outstanding problem of getting the books from Auckland to Honiara.

Initially Bob suggested that a number of book projects had been supported by the NZ Defence forces, taking book consignments to various South Pacific countries when they had the capacity. In fact two such book projects had been organised prior to 2010 with Defence Force Hercules planes moving the books into the Solomons. Peter took responsibility of contacting the military and while promising assistance, it was clear no flights were planned for the next six months.

Harry Renfree and Peter Sugden look over the books

Team Vella Lavella Project in Conroy's shed

By now the books had been moved from Adrian Wiigs shed to a large packing shed offered by David Conroy. This provided a spacious area with tables needed for sorting.

In August 2012 Moffat had informed Bob that an old pupil of his from his time at Napier BHS, Richard Hellyer, was now working as an Education Sector Advisor to the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development and living in Honiara. Bob had met up with Richard on his return from Vella Lavella.

Richard became a key supporter of the book project. and in Christmas 2013 he took time to visit the packing shed with Bob, Peter and others. He had a good look at the books and other teacher resource material, and said they would all be suitable for the Solomon Island schools and appreciated by the local teachers. He said he would oversee the arrival and immediate storage of the cartons on arrival. They would then be reviewed and classified by another primary education expert in Honiara, Joyce Boykin.

Richard also approached the Permanent Secretary of Education, Dr Franco Rodie, who agreed that the Ministry would pay for all internal distribution costs. This covered not only freighting the books to Gizo but any ongoing distribution costs incurred by Kuve Marlon. Kuve offered to uplift the books from Gizo, the nearest ferry port, and deliver them to the schools on the island. He was eventually reimbursed for this by Joyce Boykin, who acted as a Ministry agent in this matter.

Richard Hellyer (centre) with Peter Sugden (left) and Paul Bee

For the next 6 months the club collected books.

Books and other teaching material poured in from primary schools around Hawkes Bay and many Club members were involved in picking them up and bringing them to the packing shed. Arthur Miller School gave a whole set of sports T-shirts.

Secondary material came from many HB schools. St John's College in Hasting donated a full set of Level 2 (Form 6) brand new Accounting books.

Working bees were organised each Saturday morning over this period. These lasted 1-2 hours, where Club members and wives sorted and classified material. Secondary material had to be packed separately from primary; the boxes were then taped and securely bound ready for palletising.

During this time Richard Hellyer visited the packing shed as he was home over Christmas visiting relatives. He informed the project organisers' that a local expatriate women, Joyce Boyken, would receive the books on arrival, check them for suitability, repackage and arrange the transport to Gizo. Altogether there were 54 standard packing boxes occupying two pallets.  

Peter, Bob and Bob Knappstein in the Arthur Miller T-shirts

One of the two palletised packs

Seven boxes bound for Vununu High School

Good advertising!

By early March 2014 the plan to wait for transport with the Defence Forces was abandoned, and the Club agreed to meet the cost of $1000, a rate subsidised by Conroy Removals.

The last of the project steps was in place when Kerrie Kennedy, secretary of the Rotary Club of Gizo, agreed to supervise the unloading of the books at Gizo's port and liaise with Kuve to pick them up for delivery to schools on the island.

Peter supervises the loading of the two pallets of 54 cartons.

..and thanks Gary Conroy for all the help Conroy's have given

The consignment of 54 boxes in two pallets finally left Auckland in May 2014 and arrived in Honiara mid June. Joyce Boyken and her team took over and opened all cartons for checking. All material was passed as suitable.

At this late stage, the project organisers requested a change in distribution. In April 2014 Honiara, and much of Gualacanal, had suffered disastrous flooding so the Taradale Club suggested  that 27 boxes remain in Honiara and be a gift from the Club to the Ministry to be used to help the most affected schools replenish their reading material. 

The Ministry gratefully accepted this offer and the reduced consignment to Vella Lavella schools was divided equally (7 boxes each) between Vonunu, Maravari, Boro, and Leona, where Kuve Marlon is the Chairman of the Leona school committee. Halving the consignment to schools in Vella Lavella in no way reduced the value of what they were receiving, as each carton contained hundreds of old primary readers.

A vital aspect in ensuring a satisfactory conclusion to international projects of this nature, is getting photographic evidence that the books are finally in place. Thanks to modern technology the Club was delighted to receive photos of the receipt of the books, the books in the hands of students and teachers, and letters and emails of thanks.

The books arrive in Honiara, Solomon Islands

Joyce Boyken's team, Honiara

(Photos courtesy Joyce)

Samuel Zoro, Bursar of Leona Primary, accepts his schools books along with Kuve Marlon

Kuve and the Principal of Maravari Primary School

(Photos thanks to Kerrie Kennedy)

Letter of Appreciation from Permanent Secretary of Education and Human Resources

Mr. Merv Kite - President

Taradale Rotary Club

P.O. Box 7084


Napier 4030

New Zealand

Dear Merv Kite,

I write to you to inform you that your Rotary Clubís generous gift of reading books for targeted primary and secondary schools in the Western Province and on Guadalcanal was happily received by the teachers, staff and parents. Once children become literate, books are essential to at least sustain reading levels already achieved and to also offer the opportunity to increase comprehension and knowledge.

Twenty-eight cartons of books were sent on a ship to Gizo and then on outboard motors (OBM) to Vella Lavella. This was the second attempt to deliver the books because the week before, when the ship arrived, there was quite a severe rainstorm so the cargo was left below decks. The next day, the ship returned to Honiara with the cartons still on board. After a week, the ship returned to Gizo with the hope that this time the weather would allow the cargo to be taken off. Finally, luck was with us and all went well. The coordination team set in motion the transfer of the twenty-eight cartons to OBMs to continue the trip to the outer schools.

On Guadalcanal, the distribution of the twenty-eight cartons was a bit different. The Guadalcanal Provincial Government Education Officer sent out radio messages to the schools on the weather coast to have staff collect them in Honiara. So far, only a few cartons are still waiting for the hand-over. The schools on the south side of the island are rather remote, so receiving materials is always a challenge. However, principals and parents representing many schools have happily arrived to collect their cartons and transport them to their school sites.

Please know that your efforts and determination to make a difference in the educational lives of children in the Solomon Islands has paid off. Hundreds of students will have benefitted from your project to supply books to our very needy schools. We cannot thank you enough.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Franco Rodie




Permanent Secretary

Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development



This was a very successful project and one the Club is proud of.

 David and Gary Conroy of Conroy Removals helped significantly by

  • providing storage space
  • providing standard packing boxes,
  • transporting the book consignment to Auckland, and
  • discounting international freight rates..

The Club responded by making Paul Harris Awards to the brothers at Changeover night 2014.Read further...

A sad footnote was that Moffat Wasuka died on 15th October 2013. Bob in particular, lost a valued colleague and friend, and Peter and other members of the project team were saddened by Moffat's passing. Without his help this project would not have eventuated.

Books in the hands of students and teachers
Primary and Secondary students at Leona school show off their new books. On the left, the Arthur Millar T-shirt are visible

Photos courtesy Kuve Marlon, school council chairman.

Students and teachers at Vonunu National Secondary School check their new Accounting and Economic texts

Photos courtesy Tim Bula, school Principal.

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