By Kevin Wilson, Palms staff
Emotions can be completely out of proportion to the situation at hand. Public speaking, for example, still ranks as Fear No. 1 for most people. Lately I have reflected that something we humans find most difficult to endure is waiting. The frustration we feel standing in that queue can seem overwhelming, even paired with silent rage. Yet how quickly do those heated emotions just evaporate once waiting is over and we have that golden ticket?
My recent Field Trip to PNG provided much opportunity to consider this, amid a grating amount of delayed, further delayed, then cancelled, commandeered, and cancelled again flights, I felt so much again in solidarity with people and the reality of life as I ever did in placement.
A field trip at this time was rather odd: Currently there are no participants working on Palms projects in PNG or Bougainville. Also, most of the bishops (our usual partner contacts) were away Ad Limina in Rome. This did present the opportunity though to engage other key people closer to projects themselves, along with other potential partners.
One new potential is Catholic Church Health Services which provides healthcare in all regions and works in partnership with the National Department of Health. During an unplanned delay in Port Moresby I met Sr Jadwiga Faliszek, who heads these services with her team. They were quick to see the benefit of engaging Palms and are keen for rural doctors/MOs to mentor newly qualified local personnel who are stationed in various provincial hospitals and clinics. As there is very little share or consolidated medical data in PNG, Sr Jadwiga also sees the need for a data analyst to mentor the Moresby office team.
Sr Jadwiga tests Br Raju’s blood pressure
Other fortuitous meetings came at the other end of my trip in Buka. Steve and Kim Blewitt are translators with SIL and have spent a good 30+ years in Bougainville and Buka. With much of the tok ples now documented, and continued translation work in the hands of locals, they hope the SIL purpose-built training centre can also be handed to local management. This would become a new community centre offering various training.
While Palms has long counted the Diocese of Bougainville as a partner, we have not had a direct placement request from it as far as I know (correction please?). My meeting with the VG, Fr Polycarp Reaton was thus very fresh. We bonded through discussing the challenges of the proto-nation still emerging from the crisis. Among the envisaged Palms mentors the diocese hopes for tradespeople, financial officers and media professionals to assist at the Diocese’s radio station. In a nod to shared tradition, catechists are also desired to mentor diocesan pastoral and formation workers.
Fr Polycarp looking after Bougainville
Before I reached the Holy Island, the itinerary was visiting those partners with several requests on the books. Unfortunately my leg to the much loved Diocese of Kiunga was thwarted by cancelled flights. Fr Andrew and the team were very understanding of this reality when I phoned my apologies. There’s always next time so I’m determined.
Mount Hagen Archdiocese has several requests in place, including a Project Mentor to be filled soon by Ray Wallbank. Others though, such as the plumber and electrician positions, were affected by withdrawal of participants during the early days of Covid. In Archbishop Doug’s stead, VG Fr Bogdan met me and happily heard much about the long relationship of Palms and the Archdiocese. Potential new requests will include financial and office managers, mechanics and teachers. A growing community around the Shrine of Divine Mercy, at Kuli Parish within the Archdiocese, presents the need for teachers at the expanding school, tradespeople to mentor on local building projects and mentors in hospitality.
A short (well for PNG) drive from Kuli, and I reconnected with the community at Good Shepherd Seminary in Banz. Here the current rector, Fr Paul Wlua, reiterated their request for a Librarian. In fact they are desperate for a LIBRARIAN. There are also requirements for more teachers, especially tutors of Philosophy and English. During Covid, the seminary opened its doors to local female students of theology (who would normally train in Rome). The community is happy for this to continue with more women studying and of course teaching at Banz.
The stay at Banz also meant reconnecting with former (but not returned) participant Charles Dufour. Now Fr Charles, he was ordained a priest for Mount Hagen in 2022 and now settling by degrees into parish life at Minj, while lecturing part-time in Banz.
Fr Charles and Henry in Charles’ Minj presbytery
Places I strangely hadn’t visited before on five previous PNG trips included Mingende, Kundiawa and Madang. These weren’t to be missed and luckily those first two were covered by road. Henry Nowrot is Operations Manager in Kundiawa and Mingende, one of the oldest missions in PNG. The diocese has most of the challenges typical of PNG and the highlands, but is well developed and runs multiple community services. These include a hospital, technical college, farms, mechanical workshops, primary and secondary schools. All of these would benefit of course from Palms engagement.
Madang gave me my only meeting with a bishop on this trip, and the always smiling Archbishop Anton Bal at that. To the outsider, Madang is much more peaceful and safer than Moresby or Hagen, but a growing number of fences and barbed wire shows a declining trend. Archbishop Anton considers his greatest challenge is preserving and strengthening of community. Several issues have negatively impacted Madang. Older local industry has closed with many youth either unemployed or exploited. Anton is hopeful that Palms will “bring volunteers back to different areas of need”. These areas will be tradespeople to mentor at the vocational colleges, teachers for the archdiocesan schools, especially in English and “Business Maths”, and administrators to mentor service delivery. Palms participants in these field will be unaffected by the wantok system, to which Anton attributes many of the problems faced by Madang and PNG generally.
Archbishop Anton, Fr Joe and old Palms friend Max David- WAITING
Yes the needs are very acute. But Anton, like all on this trip is forever hopeful that these will be addressed and overcome. Palms’ engagement is considered a key part of the solution which communities seek, despite the lack of recent participants. They value our relationship and are willing to wait.
This was to be a much longer article, with deliberately boring accounts of frustrating hours and days spent in airports. But it’s enough to say that while waiting is so hard to bear, that is exactly what Palms’ PNG partners have done, and will patiently wait much longer if needed for placements to be filled.
While redoubling our recruitment efforts, lets’ remain ever hopeful, as our partners are, the waiting ends soon.