Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Heights of Papua New Guinea
Written by Caroline Newson: PNG Programme Officer

As a newly appointed NZAID Development Programme Officer, I recently went on a familiarisation trip to Papua New Guinea (PNG). This was my first time in PNG, and in fact my first visit to a Pacific country.

I travelled to PNG with Sandra Hamilton, my Team Leader, to attend a Health Summit, which brought together government officials and development partners involved with the Health Sector Improvement Programme, such as AusAID and the World Health Organisation (WHO). While in Port Moresby, I also met with a number of other funded NZAID-funded partners. We then left the muggy air of Port Moresby for the pleasantly temperate climate of the Highlands.

Oxfam's Highlands Programme
Our purpose in travelling to the Highlands was to meet the Oxfam Programme Co-ordinator and learn about Oxfam's work in the region. In this financial year, NZAID will contribute approximately $600,000 towards Oxfam's Highlands Programme. We visited two parnter organisations of Oxfam, one of which is directly funded by NZAID.

Our contingent for the Highlands visit consisted of Sarndra and I, along with Tauaasa Taafaki, NZAID Manager and Freddy Hombuhanje, recently appointed NZAID Development Programme Co-ordinator. Tauaasa and Freddy are both based at the High Comission in Port Moresby.

Kup Women for Peace
From Port Moresby we flew for an hour before landing 1,600 metres above sea level, in Gorka. Yanny Guman, Oxfam's Highlands Office Programme Co-ordinator, picked us up on our arrival at Goroka and we headed to Oxfam's office to begin our road trip. The Highlands highway is sealed in some places, and in others there are large potholes to avoid - or not - and in a couple of places there was substantial subsidence or huge holes in the middle of the road. The roads of PNG are much diffferent to suburban NZ!

It took about three hours for us to reach the Kup District, home to Kup Women for Peace (KWP). This movement was established by a group of women from rival tribes in 1999 with a hope to 'downim heavy belong all mama' - reduce the sorrow of Mothers. Their bravery in confronting violence in the early years has borne fruit as the wider community has joined their cause, and the region is more peaceful now that it has been in decades. This financial year NZAID will contribute $80, 000 through Oxfam's Highland Programme towards the work of KWP.

We were greeted by Mary Kini and Agnes Sil, founding members of KWP and then welcomed through a guard of honour. As I walked down the long line and greeted people from all stages of life, I felt humbled and privledged to be welcomed into a community so far from my own, and to be given the opportunity to learn about their lives.

We took our seats on a grass stage, and heard different community members talking about KWP and the impact the movement has had on their lives. A young man, Simon, spoke about how KWP had helped him to develop a livelihood and improve himself. But the successes are still accompanied by the sorrows – Mary Kini tearfully told us that a Community Police officer had been killed the day before, after intervening in a domestic violence incident.

We each introduced ourselves and gave a few words of encouragement to the community, speaking what little Tok Pisin we could (apart from Freddy, who is from PNG). “Apinun, nem bilong mi Caroline” was all I could manage (Good afternoon, my name is Caroline).

Over a delicious meal of freshly harvested vegetables and fruit, we talked with Agnes, Mary, and Gerry (the group’s administrator) about their recent success in facilitating a violence-free election in the Kup region. They achieved this through inviting candidates to publicly commit to a non-violent campaign, engaging young people in livelihood activities to reduce the chance of them being drawn into violence, and being closely involved with voting on election day.

In asking about how they worked with Oxfam, they viewed the most important aspect of their relationship as the support Oxfam provides in terms of linking with other organisations for training, like Peace Foundation Melanesia, and strengthening the organisation’s internal processes as their work expands. They also noted the positive impact of Oxfam’s water and sanitation project as a visible and practical symbol of the benefits of peace.

When I asked what their vision was for the future, Mary said simply “to live in peace”.

Community Based Health Care
On Thursday morning, we loaded up the Hilux again to head through spectacular landscape towards Kudjip, to visit Nazarene Health Ministries, who implement Community Based Health Care projects.

Nazarene Health Ministries (NHM) has a variety of activities, and NZAID provides funding for Community Based Health Care (CBHC), the branch of Nazarene that establishes preventive health care projects in villages. NZAID will provide $150,000 directly to CBHC this financial year.

We met with Dr Bill McCoy - NHM’s Medical Director, Joseph Warai – Director of CBHC, and Dr Becky Morsch. Dr Bill and Dr Becky are both American missionary doctors. After working in Swaziland for twenty years, Dr Bill accepted the request to work in PNG. Dr Becky has been in PNG for four years, and has a passion for preventive health care – “she won’t go back to the hospital” joked Joseph. CBHC helps communities to build their self-reliance and address their health needs. Community Health Volunteers and Village Birth Attendants are trained, and life skills training is offered. Initiatives to address particular needs are facilitated by CBHC staff. It is a very innovative approach to health care, much needed in PNG which has a rural population of 87% yet 80% of the rural aid posts, which are meant to provide health care, are closed.

Joseph Warai has recently been appointed Director, after working as the Co-ordinator of CBHC’s programme in Tari, Southern Highlands. It is in Tari where Oxfam works with CBHC to provide livelihood and capacity building support (funded through KOHA-PICD) and also to carry out the Community Health and Agricultural Support Programme (CHASP), which will receive about $180,000 from NZAID this financial year, through Oxfam. The CHASP’s function is to provide support to rural women and men in the areas of health and sustainable agriculture.
We departed Kudjip and drove on to Mt Hagen airport. After waiting over an hour for our plane, I was treated to a window seat on the flight back to Port Moresby. As I looked out over the vast lands of Papua New Guinea, and reflected on how our visit had covered a broad spectrum of NZAID’s involvement in the country – from the high level Health Sector Improvement Programme, to health services set up by a Christian organisation, right through to a grassroots peace movement. While PNG has lots of development challenges and obstacles to progress, this trip has shown me that New Zealanders, through NZAID’s support, are making a difference.