From journalist to community developer
By BRIAN LEZUTUNI
A FEW years ago, Lesley Sanga was a familiar name typed out boldly on the pages of the Solomon Star newspaper.
For six years, the young-man from East Kwara’ae worked as a journalist in one of the daily newspapers in the country.
These days, Sanga, 33, is living his life as a game-changer, assisting youths to instil self-discipline and involving in a major kava revolution in the Aitolo Community on the hinterlands of Central Kwara’ae.
Kava as a commodity is grown fervently in these parts of Malaita Province. Farmers in the area, with little education, have been planting this lucrative crop for years.
And with their struggles, they have had ambitions to expand and meet the stringent quality control demands that come with the sale of kava.
Upon Sanga’s decision to settle down at his wife’s village, the farmers turned to him for assistance in furthering their kava ambitions.
In a span of two years, Sanga has gone from being an outsider in the community to helping to turn the wheels of development and community self-belief.
With his help the Aitolo Self-Reliance Association was formed.
The association consisted of community members involved in the kava trade.
Sanga was made secretary and in July 2020, he and other members of the association applied for the Economic Stimulus Package from the government.
In December 2020, the association received its first ever government assistance which was translated into much needed tools to expand on their existing kava base.
The Kava Association also agreed that all 30 members made up of men, women and youths will plant 200 kava bottoms each as contribution towards keeping the association going.
From then on, each individual is required to pay five percent from the sale of their product to the Association.
“We have managed to come up with a workable vision for the community after years of neglect from the government,’ Sanga said.
“Although our target fund sought was $30,000, we were grateful that the government had given us $12,000 that we use to purchase our tools,” he added.
The tools include knives, axes, grass-cutters, shovels and sharpening files.
Aitolo elder, Walter Ara who had been planting Kava since 2011 and had around 1,000 plants before receiving the assistance, said it was helpful that people like Sanga are around to assist them.
“We are all rural dwellers and my only source of cash revenue has been kava, other cash crops involve hard work and little money,” he added.
Upon seeing the impact made to lives of farmers in the area, Sanga this year stepped up a notch as he worked with the local community in establishing a village-based approach to help engage youths in the area.
He proudly explained that this approach came to be known as the ‘3P’: “It is Pray, Plant and Play!”
His team chose ‘Play’ as their starting point.
Aitolo is located on rugged mountainous terrain and having a soccer field is a huge challenge.
So armed with his writing and persuasive skills, Sanga decided to write a letter to the provincial government for two drums of diesel and some funds to assist clear a field close to their community.
After receiving assistance, the owners of an excavator decided against making their machine available to dig up the field so the community decided to sell the drums of diesel and use that money to pay people to do the back-breaking job of digging up the field by hand.
With the community help, the field was completed. The men and boys became involved in sports and ‘kwaso’ drinking was a thing of the past.
Planting kava came next, meaning two ‘Ps’ were achieved.
This year has seen the growth of community engagement in religious activity as people had things to do and prayer became part of their lives.
“The village cycle revolves around gardening which began at eight, then play at four in the afternoon and then prayer in the evening.
“We are seeing our youths and men engaged,” Sanga added.
Village elder, Matthew Maetarau said he has seen a big improvement in the behaviour of youths in his community.
“We had issues with drunk youths causing nuisance in our community, we are thankful that they are engaged in the 3P formula.
“Although it was only introduced (last year), it has had an impact on our community,” he added.
Sanga said he has no regrets leaving his job as a journalist.
“During my short time as journalist I have visited places such as Fiji, Vanuatu, Taiwan and Hong-Kong, which has opened my eyes and gave me the drive to push my people forward in development,” he said.
As Covid-19 has hindered any likely return to his passion as a journalist, he is grateful that his other ambition, agriculture is being pursued while he continues to live his life with his family up on the highlands of Malaita.