Ask many Australians what they know about Papua New Guinea and their reply will refer to a particular image such as the Kokoda Track, ‘raskols’ in Port Moresby, tribal warriors or corruption. They might be aware of the Bougainville crisis, know someone who worked at a mine or plantation, or be able to name a Papua New Guinean footballer. But, just as Australia is more than just the Opera House, cricketers, kangaroos and beer, there is so much more to our northern neighbour than these images give credit to.
At Sacred Heart College located next to the isolated airstrip of Tapini, Tony Bozicevic and Des Hansen were experiencing life amongst the Goilala people at a recently refurbished school. In addition to their time in the classroom, Des and Tony are fully immersed in the lives of their students and colleagues. Rather than fearing their hosts, Des and Tony have embraced them, even planning to join their students on the two-day walk to Port Moresby during the holidays.
In the highlands, Sarah and Damien Beale were readjusting after a brief holiday back in Perth. They were helping prepare upcoming training courses for staff and volunteers of Callan Services for Persons with a Disability. They had worked hard to overturn expectations that as expatriates they would provide handouts. This was sometimes made difficult by visiting expats who, moved by what they saw, wanted to provide solutions: sometimes ignoring simple local solutions. Being present for more than a few months allowed Sarah and Damien to concentrate on building individual and organisational capacity.
Graham Andrews, at Good Shepherd in Fatima, continues his good work preparing the next generation of church leaders and is much appreciated for his commitment to PNG. Fiona Cairns, in Goroka, has returned to her placement at Mt Sion following surgery in Australia. Like Graham, the commitment she has shown in returning is highly valued and along with her friendly, positive approach has helped her be more effective in her work. Fiona is now assisting with Mt Sion’s accounts following the successful appointment of a local manager for the optical clinic.
Frank Hanrahan, in his first month, was settling into Madang on the North Coast. Working closely with Ben, a local man, has meant he has plenty of opportunities to pass on his considerable carpentry expertise. His work has taken him out of Madang town to see more of the beautiful coast and countryside and despite the heat, he enjoys wandering into town for a quiet beer on weekends.
Also on the North coast, in Wewak, Gary and Helen Wolhuter are having a great effect at Callan Services. I was privileged to join in their weekly swimming classes for people with disabilities. These classes are having a remarkable effect, both for the physical wellbeing of their clients and for the greater understanding and respect developed within the community for people with disabilities. Even without the substantial work of their working week, this program alone would justify Helen and Gary’s placements.
Each volunteer has had the opportunity to witness Papua New Guineans as something more than a crude stereotype. Hopefully on returning to Australia their understanding can enrich us all further.