Project Canterbury

And There is Much Rubbish

By Sister Gwen of the Cross

From The Southern Cross Log, Vol. 57, No. 1 (January Quarter, 1950), London, pages 168-172.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2009


(Nehemiah 4, 10)

Sister Gwen's article was accompanied by a letter to the Editor which included these remarks. " . . . . it is far from easy in a full school life as well as in a perpetual state of building something to find time to put pen to paper for something that needs a bit of thought! . . . . . "

(This article) tells you all we have struggled to achieve, so I need say no more. It is always a case of trying to make something out of nothing or of coping with an almost impossible problem of water. Always too little where we need it, and too much where we don't need it!"

Nehemiah is not alone in his experience! How many people in many lands in the last ten years have tackled the rubbish of destroyed homes, of ruined land and of occupying armies as well as the inevitable rubbish of all rebuilding. One day on Buñana we hope to write that sentence in the past tense, but that day is not yet.

What countless bottles and tins were scattered over this tiny island! Bottles! After two years we still find them; whole or cracked; large or small; clear or brown; white or green; empty or full. (Is it iodine, gravy maker, listerine, or coffee essence?) Tins! We could make a museum of them; clean or rusty; battered or whole; down in pits or up on mounds; empty or full; (show it to Sister, with luck it may be jam!) They peep at us shyly from under stones, they stare at us boldly from up in trees. In the garden they seem to grow overnight and appear where yesterday we thought there were none.

Wire, miles of it; telephone wire, barbed wire, plain wire, rusty wire, electric light wire; from tree to tree; on the ground or buried in it. Useful? Yes, very. It ties many rafters, doors and shutters, and makes handles for buckets and cook tins.

Iron. Bits of every shape and thickness. Bars thick and thin, straight and bent. The latter, bent twice at right angles, make legs for beds, seats and tables. (White ants don't eat iron.) They make stands for cook pots over fires.

Stones, everywhere! But mostly where we don't want them and where we want them, none. Day by day as we return from the garden we try to carry some away. We dig them out with picks from land that once grew our best pannas, but that has been hardened by bulldozers and stones to make a road.

Holes, of every shape and size, in lines or groups or scattered; dugouts and fox holes; with sand bags or without. If we do not look warily as we clear the thick green cover crop of calapagonium that has grown unchecked for so many years someone will disappear waist or shoulder deep in a hidden pit.

[169] Timber. Lots----once! But first come, first served. Timber makes useful furniture and houses, and neighbouring visitors gleaned before our return. So what we most need we find least of. But gales leave their uses, and timber from war time wrecks in Tulagi harbour is sometimes washed up by a kindly wave. Anyone who reports a find of timber is sure of a word of praise. Some of our classroom seats and various shelves and small tables are made of drift timber.

One day eight triumphant children paddled home from the other side of the island a section of ply wood 8 by 4 feet. They used coconut midribs to paddle the wood and seated on it, it sank a foot below the surface of the sea. Somehow they managed to sit on the slippery wood, though every now and then the back "man" slid off into the sea. In her efforts to regain her place two more by accident or design slid off, and so with much fun, many shouts and very scanty garments (the youngest in her birthday suit) the eight jumped to the sand and hauled their prize ashore. That plywood now makes part of the vestment chest in the sacristy.

Pipes, yards and yards of them----again, once! They brought water from a spring half a mile away, through the bush to the Camp, the site of our school. But the departing C.O. did not think of those who would return and most of the pipes were thrown into the sea. The rest fell into the hands probably of the early gleaners and followed the timber elsewhere.

Little by little, day by day for two years now the children have been obliterating the marks of war. Rubbish and stones, bottles and tins, are carried away. Fox holes are filled in. Dugouts are joined by drains to carry away surplus water from the hill garden. New drains are dug to divert in other directions the drainage water that U.S. gullies by the side of roads concentrate to one place. The ground is cleared, hoed, and manurial crops replanted. About five acres of former garden land have now been cleared but not more than half of this will produce good food crops yet. A continual succession of green manures, cow peas, calapagonium, sesbania and crotalaria, is necessary to restore the lost humus. Still, there are hundreds of stones to be dug out. Where the soil was pushed away by bull dozers to bank up a road the ground level is now below water level, and after heavy rain it lies under water. How to restore this land to its original level is still one of our unsolved problems.

When we can, we get local labour to help, for there is much heavy work and tidying to be done everywhere. Coconut palms beheaded by bombs, branches of trees cracked by blast, all are unsafe dud must come down. One afternoon a huge casuarina fell and crashed from end to end through the middle of a goat house. Somehow the nannie was safe though her chain was under the tree! For a week after that, men felled some of the damaged trees near our houses but some still remain for they are in too difficult positions to be cut down yet. We gaze at them anxiously when the winds are high.

[170] There are times when it is difficult to get workmen. As in Nehemiah's days "--------causeth the work to cease." The ------- may be the desire for more wages, the work in village gardens or house building, the repair of Government roads or just the fact that at the moment there is a sufficiency of shillings or dollars in the cigarette tin that does for village purse or bank.

But when those jobs are finished or when the bank is getting low "the people have a mind to work" and a job at Buñana is welcome. Then, "the work goeth fast on." In the last two and three-quarter years men have put up two dozen leaf houses (Church, dormitories, class rooms, dining rooms, cook houses, dispensary, Community houses, Guest houses, workmen's house and others), as well as two permanent houses, one timber army hut for classes, and one tin army hut for a general store. This is almost an average of a house a month so that we never seem to be without the litter of bits of sticks, leaves and string lying somewhere.

But the days are over now when "the people were few and the houses not yet builded." Four dormitories are full of girls. Some girls are between 10 and 14 years but many are between 14 and 19. We wanted to start with them all young but there seems to be a real need for school for the elder girls who waited through the war years to come here.

Some of the elder girls are betrothed to young men working in Government Offices or teaching in our schools. "Please could you take my future wife at Buñana? I want her to learn to patch, and to wash a floor." "Please will you teach -------- to make tea and boil an egg!" Or, from another in one of our schools "I am going home to my village to look for a wife. My relations have chosen an old woman for me. I do not want a woman who can only be my cook I want a wife to help me in my work. May I bring the young woman I shall choose to you. I will not marry a girl who has not been to school." So far every letter from a young man desiring to put his fiancee at school has emphasised his domestic needs. It is as well, for we can try to teach a young woman straight from her village a few domestic things whereas no one can teach her arithmetic! Few young men want to wait more than a year or two at the most for their bride. Some still think that everything can be mastered in a few months. But the number of those is lessening.

At present domestic training at school is achieved mainly by an organised plan of "helping jobs". While the bulk of the school is working in the gardens from 7.30 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. and from 3.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. other girls in pairs take turns for a period of several months learning domestic jobs. Two will do the school cooking and clean dining rooms and cookhouses; two may be making scones for the daily breakfast; another two may be cleaning the dispensary as for these months they are learning to do dressings, measure medicines and [170/171] take temperatures; two may be learning to do simple "white" cookery (boil the egg and make the tea with boiling water, not with water that "did boil 10 minutes ago"). Others on other days will be learning to keep the "white" Guest house in order and prepare it for a visitor; another pair will clean the Church each day, and learn to wash and iron the linen and put ready Vestments for the Priest. A set of elder girls will have lessons in Baby care and learn to care for an orphan baby in Holy Cross Nursery. A very few seniors at their parents wish are allowed to learn in S. Monica's midwifery department for local village women. Obviously those girls who come late for a short time before marriage cannot learn all these things. They do what they have most aptitude for. The patching that future husbands are so desirous for their wives to do is part of classroom syllabus.

The days are very full. The 40 hour week as far as I know is not the lot of any teacher in any land, least of all in a Melanesian boarding school. I read not long ago of a 27 1/2 hour week for school children. I have not done the arithmetic for a Melanesian girls' school week, but if garden work as practical agriculture is taken account of as well as the daily sessions morning and afternoon actually in the class room the total must add up to a good deal; and even that does not include the daily Scripture lesson soon after early morning prayers, and the time often spent midday collecting and preparing caves for weaving and getting coconuts for cooking--all part of education.

The background of the many jobs is not just to learn to do those particular things but, far more important for village life, to learn to want to help one another in the general tasks of daily life. It is this desire that seems to have almost completely disappeared in some areas in the last ten years. A baby dies because the father it away and no one will hear the mother's pleas to bring her and her baby to us here. A woman cannot reach S. Monica's midwifery department in time because no one will help the father with the canoe through heavy seas. A teacher goes from one island to be a missionary teacher on another. His wife and he cut the trees, carry them in and slowly build their own house because those they have gone to help have not yet learnt to help in their turn. The war seems to have obliterated the desire to help one another. It is every one for himself and himself only.

So school life is not a round of mere class room lessons, of English, geography, arithmetic, singing, and all the other many things there are to be learnt, it is a time of learning to do the jobs of every day life for one another, of absorbing a desire to help one another (from other islands as well as from your own), of "doing all in the Name of the Lord Jesus."

And as with the material things, so with the spiritual. Where there is building there will be rubbish. Not all will fulfil the desires [171/172] we have for them, not all will make good the prayers, the money, the time, that has been given by so many in various lands for their schooling. But the Lord let the tares and the wheat grow together. Please pray for all those in Melanesia who are trying to teach boys and girls to build good Christian homes and villages in the future, that there may not be "much rubbish".

(References in order from Nehemiah, 4. v. 10. 11. 6; Ezra, 5. v. 8; Nehemiah, 7. v. 4. and Colossians, 3. v. 17.)


Note--I should like to send names of girls to any who will undertake to pray for a child by name daily.

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