Frances Scurfield’s Letter From Mingende

Frances Scurfield from Parkes is working as a finance officer, training local staff in Kundiawa Diocese.

Dear all,
Life is moving very fast and after 12 months here in Mingende I have had a very reflective Christmas break. The year has flown and looking back I can see how far I’ve come, not only in miles but also in spiritually and in understanding of a culture entirely different from my own.

Palms’ Orientation Course has proven to be a real practical strength along the way as I have been prepared for the changes that took place. I have spent some time over the Christmas time at a Melanesian Course in Goroka and this has also enlightened my knowledge of this very different culture and people. We looked at the traditional cultures in PNG, which are so diverse because of the isolation of so many villages. One area in the highlands had no contact with the outside world until the 1980s!! Also we looked at the breakdown of the traditions and the problems that the new situation of the youth not knowing their traditional culture is bringing.

I see many problems in our area here in Simbu, where men have lost their traditional role of the warrior and protector of the community and have not another proud role to step into. The cash economy is bypassing the traditional community and it is very sad. One result of this is the amount of drug abuse.

We are presently setting up the Simbu Rural Drug Rehabilitation Program in Mingende, which is being funded by Caritas Australia. Initially this is a 2-year program, which has been drawn up by local men who have had experience working with drug addicts. A huge need for the program has been realised by the diocese as the highlands has ideal growing conditions for marijuana, making the drug very accessible and cheap.

This drug addiction is destroying families as it does in every other culture, but is curbed by the women here who are very strong. They can be badly treated by a lot of the men and kept suppressed, but are the backbone of the society. In the last few years the women have really started to demand a better lot for themselves.

Many women have employment around Mingende and I have been able to help them establish bank accounts for their savings. Having their own money is a new role for many of them and it has taken many months to arrange this with the bank. Generally women spend 80% of their earnings on their families, but women are only earning 20% of wage monies earned in PNG.

I’ve made friends in the local villages and went for a wonderful trip to one several miles away to join the local family with some gardening last weekend. The people are so grateful for me coming, but it is I who am grateful for their sharing of their gardens with me.

I will write again soon.