Page 1870 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 4 May 2011

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MS LE COUTEUR: Well, it was. It is a parent-run school. It has had a small amount of aid from AusAID for some capital things but it is largely self-funded. One of the people that we saw there was a very wonderful and enthusiastic young woman who was an Australian Volunteers Abroad worker and she certainly was incredibly committed. I was very moved by the school. Basically, they have probably got less equipment in some ways than I have up in my office. They have virtually nothing for all those kids. We took books. They had probably a couple of dozen books. They would like Duplo; they have probably got the quantity of Duplo that I have got in my office. They do not have desks for everybody. You name it, they do not have it.

So one of my intentions—I will be sending an email to all of you shortly—is to try and gather together some materials to send to the school because, quite frankly, most of us in our back sheds have got something which they could really use. I am just trying to work out what the costing is going to be to send it there because transport to Kiribati is very expensive. However, we as the Assembly have already made the commitment to send some of our old computers to Kiribati, so I am hoping that we will be able to piggyback this onto that and make it affordable. Max is working on that. I went to see a couple of training institutions after that, but as I am running out of time I will not talk about those.

In the afternoon we met with the office of the President and we talked about the problems confronting Kiribati. The average age of the Kiribati population is under 20. All of their high schools are on the main island of Tarawa, but of course a lot of their population live on smaller islands so that means that Tarawa is full of adolescents who do not have their immediate family with them. You can work out for yourself the sort of social issues that that creates, plus of course there is poverty and nowhere to go. So that is one of their bigger problems.

Water is another of their bigger problems and I was told about issues that people had with solar pumps. The problem with solar pumps is that they work so well and they do not cost anything to run. Kiribati gets all its fresh water from fresh water lenses and people used their pumps until they got down to the salt water, thus ruining the lens, possibly forever, certainly for a very long time.

One of the biggest parts of the Kiribati economy, I was told, was remittances. One of the reasons they are putting so much emphasis now on education is that one of their serious economic strategies is for people to leave the country and come and work in Australia. They are trying to get people qualified to Australian standards to work in Australia and send money back home to Kiribati. It is a pretty desperate economic strategy.

As an instant expert having been there for three days, and a Green, it seemed to me there were a few things from a physical point of view they should be looking at. Bikes seemed one of the obvious things. As I said yesterday, the country is basically dead flat. They have very few bikes because their roads are very narrow and pot-holey so the four-wheel drives, which are the majority of cars there, would wipe out a bike if you were brave enough to ride a bike. But if they could do something to give bikes a fighting chance it is a perfect bike situation because the country is small and flat.

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