Kiemi Lai kicked off her 2016 Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) assignment at an exciting time for sport in Solomon Islands. The country had just been announced host for the 2023 Pacific Games, and the capital Honiara was playing host to the 6th Solomon Games. Kiemi’s four-month role as Athletes Development Officer with Solomon Islands Athletes Commission (SIAC) gave her the opportunity to put her sports skills into practice in an international development context.
SIAC is an autonomous and permanent entity within the National Olympic Committee of Solomon Islands (NOCSI) and its role is to represent the views, interests and rights of national athletes.
SIAC acts primarily as an advisory body on all athlete-related issues. They also engage with communities, particularly children and young people to raise awareness of the Olympic movement and encourage participation in sports.
Hailing from sports-mad Melbourne, Kiemi brought extensive experience in community development with the Australian Football League (AFL), Western Bulldogs (AFL) Football Club and Cricket Victoria to her volunteer role at SIAC. Her assignment focused on developing the organisation’s operational capacity and building local athletes’ awareness of the Olympic movement.
“It was extremely rewarding working in the Solomon Islands and experiencing sport on a totally different level than what I had been used to,” Kiemi said. “Coming from a professional, cut-throat industry like the AFL, it was refreshing to assist sport at its purist level where people play for the love of the game and have overcome so many obstacles just to set foot on a court or a field.”
“The Solomon Games was a great experience to see how a number of different sports were played in the country. It was also good to work with representatives from the Oceania National Organising Committee (ONOC) to deliver workshops to athletes from all the provinces and to learn more about the Olympic movement myself.”
During the Solomon Games, SIAC and ONOC with the support of provincial sports coordinators and the Games’ organising committee delivered a series of personal development workshops known as Excellence for Life (E4L) and Voices of the Athletes (VOA) as well as Olympic values awareness sessions to over 480 athletes competing at the Games.
The sessions not only helped develop athletes competing at their first Solomon Games, but provided senior athletes and SIAC members with an opportunity to hone their leadership and public speaking skills. Amongst the athletes were Pacific, Commonwealth, Youth Olympic and Olympic Games representatives from across eight sports.
“It’s not every day you get to work with a two-time Olympian as your counterpart and get to mentor and work alongside so many elite athletes,” Kiemi said. “The sessions were a real eye-opener for me on how important it was to go back to basics and raise awareness on simple values like Excellence, Friendship and Respect – things you kind of expect athletes to know but are not really emphasised enough in competitive sport.”
As part of her assignment, Kiemi also supported the D.Fenders Basketball Association to empower young women in Solomon Islands through basketball. The role extended to a position as Assistant Coach with Team Guale women’s basketball team during the Games.
“I really enjoyed the practical side of things with D.Fenders training and being part of a team,” Kiemi said. “It helped me to make friends with local people and adjust to life in the Solomons.”
The short nature of Kiemi’s assignment, while challenging, was a great example of just how much can be achieved in a limited timeframe with very specific objectives and the right skillset. It was the first time SIAC has hosted an Australian volunteer, but Kiemi hopes it will be the first of many.
“There is definitely a role here for volunteers to support SIAC and at the D.Fenders but I also see future opportunities with NOCSI and other sports federations in the lead up to the 2023 Pacific Games – to help with organisational capacity, getting more kids involved in sport, assisting with elite development and using sport as a vehicle to raise awareness around things like non-communicable diseases, youth engagement, the environment, disability inclusion and gender equality.”
While originally looking to make a move into the international development sector, Kiemi’s volunteer assignment renewed her passion for sports so much that she returned to a new job within the sports industry. She took up the role of Community Development Manager with Netball Victoria in August 2016. Her work is focused on increasing participation and using the sport as a community development tool to help newly arrived refugee and migrant communities to settle in Australia.