When people ask Serah Kei how she managed to build her own island she tells them “it’s not an overnight thing, you have to work for many, many years, little bit by little bit”.
Serah’s determination saw her build an island for her and her three children to live on and then go on to extend it day by day, so she had enough space to welcome tourists.
She began building her project as a young woman of about 21 years of age.
While her first husband helped with the initial planning stages, the pair went their separate ways not long after beginning work on the island.
At that point, some single mothers with three young children aged five years; three years and nine months might give up the project but not Serah.
While most Solomon Islanders live a subsistence lifestyle, Serah had seen the benefits of income generated through tourism as a child.
In the Solomons there are often issues over land ownership, so when Serah initially spoke with her father about where she could build, they discussed the option of her building her own island.
Her ancestors, the Walla people had built their own islands from coral, which people still lived on and added to but in the late 1980s when Serah set out to build her place she had never seen anyone build an island from scratch.
No new islands had been created in the area for years.
It was also strange for locals to see a strong independent woman working on such a project, making her own money and providing for her family.
“In the Solomons men dominate the country,” Serah said.
“It is rare for a woman to work so hard building an island.”
Serah made shell money; round carved beads made from shells that are a form of payment traditional to Malaitan culture, which she used to pay for materials to build her island and the structures on it.
“I have to travel to other provinces to get the materials,” she said.
“Back then things are not easy. Like transportation is very hard, so if I go to other islands I have to wait when the ship comes, I load the raw materials, put them on, give money to the local women in the village, they help me to make.”
“Because the lagoon is made up of coral, as you can see there are lots of mangroves, there are lots of stones under the mangrove trees,” she said.
“So I’d go during low tide, break the corals, they have to clear the mangrove first and then dig underneath in the mud.”
Serah described the process of building an island in water as similar to that of a jigsaw puzzle.
She said each piece had to be carefully positioned in order to create a stable base.
“If you just put the rocks after one another, they fall out easy when there is an earthquake and when there is a rough sea,” Serah said.
“When you build, when you finish the height that you want the stone wall to stop then you have to do little corals, in between so they are stuck in between, and gravel from the corals in the sea, so we fill it up and put more gravel and it sort of holds it together.”
It is an ongoing process, with constant maintenance required to keep the base of the island stable.
“As years go by you have to put more and more,” Serah said.
Plants such as trees and flowers that she has planted help to hold the coral that makes up the island in place.
The tides have helped in the building process.
It took Serah three years to complete her initial home and the area under the house and another 22 to get to where she is today.
She opened to tourists in 2006.
The island now has two bungalows for tourists and is connected to a couple of smaller decorative islands joined by a floating bamboo bridge, perfect for snorkelers to set out from.
Serah’s tourism operation not only provides an income for her but for others in the area.
While Serah has done most of the work on the island by herself, she has had help in recent years.
One of her first guests, an international traveller, ended up staying longer than expected and the pair married in 2008.
Her now husband helped her build their new home on the island.
They are not the only ones that live there.
Serah has expanded the island to make space for her brothers and sisters and their families.
She enjoys the quiet life living on her own island has afforded her.
“I love to be with the nature, to dive with the fish and to be on the island,” Serah said.
Wanna stay at Serah’s? email her: Serah Kei firstname.lastname@example.org