23 October, 2017
Blais sits relaxed in the plastic chair under his house. His wide grin reveals a friendly personality as he tells his story.
It starts in another part of the Solomons: Choiseul Province, northwest Solomon Islands, where he was born. These days, Blais has a wife and two young girls, aged 5 and 6 months, and his family lives about an hour’s drive from the country’s capital: Honiara.
Growing up, Blais came from a poor family and his mother died while he was completing school. He describes this as a difficult time.
“I was very sad,” Blais says. “We didn’t have much of anything. Without her, I couldn’t imagine how we were going to survive.”
But his father provided for the family, and Blais went on to marry his wife and moved to her village. Blais says he used to be very shy and scared to express opinions – particularly as an outsider in his wife’s village. To provide for his family, Blais spent some time in New Zealand as a seasonal worker picking apples.
Blais says his decision to attend some training run by ADRA on cocoa growing techniques was the key to changing his life. As part of ADRA’s Soul Cocoa project, he learnt techniques to improve the process of fermenting and drying the cocoa beans. This helped improve the quality of his beans and he was able to attract a higher price for his produce.
He even entered ADRA’s Chocolate Week competition with a friend, promising: “I can’t let this guy beat me!”
When he received a phone call some weeks later to inform him that he’d won, he was shocked. ‘I was so excited it felt like I was walking on air!’ Blais says.
The achievement brought immense pride to Blais’s family. “When I heard Blais won the award, I was so proud because this new opportunity will help our family and our community receive better income,” his wife says.
Instead of keeping his newfound skills to himself, Blais chose to teach others the techniques he had learned about fermenting and drying.
Patrick Mesai, ADRA Solomon Islands project manager, can’t hide his joy at Blais’s generosity. “Blais is helping amazing things happen through his generosity to others and helping them thrive. He really is an inspiration to his community.”
With the extra income received from selling his beans to overseas chocolate makers, Blais has helped form a community savings group to cover school fees and other expenses for those in need, reflecting his strong desire to help others thrive. “I don’t want anyone to be left behind – I want everyone to grow and improve together,” he said.
“After I placed third in the competition people wanted to put me on a pedestal but I told them if we all work together we can all improve the quality of our beans and we can all benefit.”
Through his involvement in ADRA projects over the years, Blais said he has gained more confidence. “I was a very shy person. Now I am comfortable expressing my opinions and providing support and guidance to my community,” he said.
“I’m proud and it made me realise that I am able to do great things and have an impact.”
His success growing cocoa means he can now stay with his family and doesn’t need to work in New Zealand anymore.
Blais’s daughter, Jamin, smiles as she says: “I’m happy with my daddy, he loves me so much.”