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Just a 45-minute boat ride out of the quiet and laid-back Kavieng township lies Salapiu Island, nestled amongst the Tigak group of islands on the north coast of New Ireland province.

On the bright morning of April 21, 2023, a team of two staff from the Santos funded Oil Search Foundation (OSF) and a member of the Santos Communications team headed out for a monitoring and evaluation visit for OSF’s Small Grants projects in Salapiu. The team, local guides, and security escorts boarded a 23-foot banana boat powered by a 60 HP engine; a popular small craft familiar in PNG coastal areas.

After clearance by the local maritime safety officer, the team was given the green light to take on New Ireland’s north seas, with New Handover Island lying still on the horizon. All geared up in bright orange life jackets, they took to the calm seas and blue skies, perfect weather for a boat trip.

Weaving past many small sandy atolls that stretch out to meet the glittering turquoise waters the team’s gaze was steady on the scenery. So natural and picturesque was the trip that the only other sound apart from the splashes against the boat was the repeated sound of the camera shutter capturing every scene, every island, and the spectacular landscape.

Time vanished quickly and soon the small craft slowed down entering shallow waters as the skipper slowly manoeuvred a small mangrove passage leading the boat into the main rocky waterfront of Salapiu Island.

In no time, the team was welcomed and ushered in by the village leaders known as the ‘MaiMais’. Taken aback by the traditional chanting and smell of the traditional ‘bilas,’ the all-female team could feel so much curiosity and excitement. The mothers from the local church sang a welcome song, and the children, all dressed in their traditional attire, led the visitors to the village common area. Traditional dances and the melodic sounds of guitars and ukuleles filled the air.

This community boasts and treasures its culture and traditional ways and has passed these traditional values and customs down from generation to generation. Salapiu Island is home to Santos employee Dr. Graham Low, who has been described as someone who has a big heart for his people.

A Medical Officer based at Santos (previously Oil Search Limited) Moro facility since 2018, Dr. Low applied for a small grant to help mothers and the young people of Salapiu with the local women’s 4-Square programme called: Service, Devotion, Education, and Health/Wellbeing. The women had been using an old sewing machine, old cooking pots, cutlery, and sports equipment for the programs. Through the K5,000 grant funding, manual sewing machines were purchased and distributed to the local church’s women’s ministry, along with cooking pots, volleyballs and nets, rugby balls, and soccer balls.  Training to use the equipment was organised for the women and girls in the community.

In 2021 and 2022, Dr. Low applied for further grants to build rural toilets for the community resource centre aimed at benefitting the schools, church, and wider community.

The rural toilet project enabled the community to pilot a composting toilet facility for both males and females to mitigate sanitation and hygiene issues, specifically faced by women and girls on the island.

The composting toilet is water-free, due to the scarcity of water on the island.  The toilets use sawdust as the decomposing element. According to Dr. Low, the ashes absorb the fluid and can easily disintegrate also eradicating any odour.

“Water is a problem everywhere, so the flush system won’t work for us as it will use up a lot of water, which is something scarce to us on the island,” Dr. Low said.

He said the water-free system was a sustainable form of toilet and environmentally friendly.

“Our island is situated on bedrocks, so we cannot dig deep for pit toilets. We use this form of toilet system, which is also popular in many other small islands and resorts around our area.”

Dr. Low continues to contribute to the development of his small island community for the betterment of those on the island. He has also initiated a resource centre project for women, girls, and mothers to conduct activities that can empower and improve their livelihoods as well as offering a place to hold community events.  The community has been actively engaged and supportive of the three small grant projects. They have contributed extensively to the building of the toilets and the women have participated in training and made the most of the sewing machines.

Stella Sebulon, a mother, attended a tailoring training that taught her and other women how to cut fabric states.

“We were thankful that the sewing machines provided through the small grant enabled us to utilise our new sewing skills to make dresses and other garments.”

She said the money earned from the blouses they made was used to help the menfolk buy fuel needed to do other community development projects.

Davlynne Ingirin, another woman leader, said she was thankful as a beneficiary of the sewing machine project as this helped her, and other mothers earn extra income.

“Every time the machine is used, there is a K5 maintenance fee charged, so this way, the money can be used to buy parts and accessories used to repair the machine.”

She said the cooking pots were of great benefit to the mothers, as many of them lack big pots to cook in, especially during big gatherings and feasts. The pots are being kept at the women’s centre and distributed to women to use when the need arises.

Salapiu has an estimated 500 inhabitants. The people are very friendly and hospitable. The villagers, from young to old were grateful and expressed their gratitude to Santos through OSF for bringing much-needed materials and items. They said this made a big difference, especially for the women, in terms of empowering them economically through the sale of meri blouses made using the sewing machines.

The women of Salapiu also contribute to the province’s economy as main suppliers of the popular ‘mumu tapiok’ (ground oven-baked cassava) and smoked fish at the Kavieng market every day.

Since 2016, the OSF Small Grants programme has funded a total of 203 community projects for staff and contractors. The Small Grants’ funded projects have mainly involved water, sanitation, and hygiene sanitation (known in PNG as WaSH), women’s and girls’ empowerment, and rural electrification. By applying for grant funding, Santos staff can contribute to and support their communities in ways that have proven beneficial beyond the initial project and continue to grow the story of change.

OSF’s Small Grants projects extends the Santos community development agenda to other rural areas throughout Papua New Guinea and creates a development ripple effect.


Each year, the Santos funded Oil Search Foundation (OSF) invites staff and contractors to apply for a Small Grant up to K5000.

The overall goal of the OSF Small Grants Scheme is to enable Santos staff and contractors to:

•           play leadership roles in their respective communities by contributing to improving the livelihoods of people in their community by addressing issues affecting them, especially those relating to women and girls.

•            address development issues and promote behavioural change, and;

•               promote and extend the work of the Santos’ Oil Search Foundation

Since 2016, a total of 203 Small Grants projects have been funded at a total value of K969,679. Those projects were implemented/rolled out in all the 22 provinces in PNG, by Santos staff and contractors participating in the Small Grants Program.