I have recently returned from a week-long visit to Dogura Diocese. Dogura is the place where Australian Anglican missionaries first landed and began their work of preaching, teaching and healing in the lands that are now Papua New Guinea. The station itself is beautifully located on a plateau in the foothills of the Owen Stanley Ranges, looking out over Goodenough Bay, nestled within Milne Bay Province, and it is centrally located to access rural communities along the coast and inland to the mountains.
ABM and the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea are in partnership to provide Literacy, grassroots community development and HIV/AIDS and Gender Awareness programs to communities in Papua New Guinea serviced by the Anglican Church. In Dogura diocese, as in many parts of PNG, people in remote communities often have not had access to education, to knowledge about health and nutrition, to basic life skills such as growing and cooking healthy foods, sewing clothes, making crafts, knowledge about small scale income generation, and awareness about the negative impact of understandings of gender on women’s and families’ health and well-being.
But I want to tell three stories of hope, that illustrate the importance and effectiveness of small grass-roots interventions at the parish and community level, and which show the benefits of people working together to solve common problems.
During the time I was staying at Dogura, the Church Partnership Program had funded a two week training course for all the parish priests in the diocese, together with other parish leaders, secretaries etc. A total of 60 people from all over the diocese had come together at Dogura to receive training in management and administration at the rural level. The bishop had secured the services of a remarkable woman, Hayman Alfred, who came from the Dogura diocese, but was now a highly qualified nurse educator working for Lihir Goldmine. She works on Lihir for three weeks and then has two weeks off. She was using one of her two weeks off to come and run the training course.
I was approached by the bishop to run a workshop for the diocese on basic management and administration skills. I am a woman of this region and when my father was dying, he asked me, “Hayman, what are you going to do for your people?” And I knew that I wanted to give back to my own people some of the skills and education that I had been privileged to have myself. So I began by writing training modules for people in my own community. I started to talk to the chiefs, but they were not interested, so I set about devising a program of training for ordinary people. I have written the training modules myself. They are based on the work I do at Lihir, but I have broken the concepts right down to the simplest level. It is important to do this, or people will not understand what you are talking about.
I am giving my services to the diocese for nothing. This is my holiday and I regard this as my community service. It is very important for me that I do it this way. I only asked for funding to do the photocopying and binding of my course handouts. I also eat with my students and am with them all day. We start with breakfast at 7.30am and the classes start at 8am. We begin with prayers, and we have also had the morning prayers and mass in the Cathedral at 5.30am because I want people to see that it is all of a whole – our religion, the spiritual side, and the training for the material side. Then we break for lunch, with more prayers, and have the afternoon session until 3 or 3.30. I stay with them for evening prayer, and then dinner. I think it is important that I spend most of my time with them. They can ask me questions and I can try to answer them.
We are covering topics like Roles and Responsibilities in the parish, the deanery and the diocese. We look at chairing a meeting, and taking minutes, meeting procedures etc. We learn how to do a mission and vision statement, and what is a strategic plan. Then I have also told them about the PNG Vision 2050, and how their own vision statements should somehow tie in with this national level vision. I will finish by teaching them how to write project applications, and how to do a budget. There is a lot of funding opportunities out there, but most people don’t know about them, or they don’t know how to access the funds.
In my training I stress the importance of sharing knowledge. In PNG people do not always like to share what they know, but I am stressing that you must share. People keep information to themselves because they are afraid someone else might take their job if they have the same information. But it is important that these people take what they have learnt back to their own congregations and communities.
The other things I put stress on are effectiveness and efficiency.
I am the literacy teacher at Manobada parish. I have been doing this job since early 2010, after I received training from the Church Partnership Program. Very soon the community is going to build a special classroom for the literacy teaching, using bush materials. We have been given nails by the program.
I teach 30 learners in all, and their ages run from 20 to 50. Most of my learners are men, but there are also quite a few women. The two learners who most touch my heart are Betty and Jimbo. Both of them live in different mountain communities about 2 or 3 hours walk from my school. Betty is so keen. She is in her early 40s, and missed out on getting enrolled in school when she was a child. She told me when that happened she just cried and cried. Then, in about 2000, when a new primary school opened in her village, she started going there and she started to learn to read and write in her own language. She really wanted to be able to write a letter to her daughter. But when she sat down to write the letter, she found she could not put the right combination of words down on the page. All she could write was, “Dear daughter”. When she heard I had started teaching a literacy class on Mondays and Fridays, she was so keen she walked 3 hours and back twice a week. Because of this, to make it a bit easier for her, I changed the class to Mondays and Tuesday, and she stays at my house overnight. Betty told me she dreams of becoming a community leader when she is literate. Now she has started to be literate in both her own language and English. And she was so happy to read the bible for the first time, in her own language.
Jimbo is another learner whose story I want to tell you. He never went to school either, and now he is a businessman. He is in his 30s. He has enough knowledge to run his business, but he needs to be able to read and write and add up money properly, to be able to take it further. He walks to the class three hours there and back each day. His wife wanted to come too, but he told her to stay and look after the house. He wants me to run a class every day because he is in a hurry to learn. But I told him I could not do this because most of the teachers have their jobs to do and households to run, and can only manage to come to class for two days in the week.
Once we have finished the basic reading and writing skills, I want to start livelihood projects with the learners. Things like roasting peanuts and making them into peanut butter, and teaching sewing skills so they can make clothes and sell them, especially children’s clothes.
I am not an Anglican, but I am married to the head teacher at the primary school in Midono parish. I come from the Trobriand Islands and when my husband and I first came to this part of the country we were very shocked at the poverty of the people, all of them Anglicans. I cried when I saw babies dressed with a little bit of cloth and covered in a plastic bag tied at the sides. There are also strong cultural practices that result in sorcery and killings because of sorcery in some areas. I wanted to do something to help the people, particularly the women there. So we formed the Dimadima Zone Women’s Association, and I am the coordinator. We are labelled as “housewives”, which means we are “nothing”. The aid post isn’t staffed currently and so I and some of my women help out at the aid post. Sometimes I worry about getting HIV when I have to treat wounds and there are no gloves to wear. Out there in the border country, we are called “the last page”.
Last year, after forming the Women’s Association, we drew up a vision with a strategic plan and set ourselves some goals to achieve. Most of these were about training. We raised our own funds to pay for the training. Bishop gave us some second hand clothing that had been sent over from New Zealand, so we classified all the clothes and sold them for 20 or 40 toia each. Many of the clothes we didn’t know what to do with them, like long men’s trousers and mini tops, but most of the clothes we sold, and we raised nearly 400 kina for our association. Our first training was in management skills. That only cost 80 kina because I was the facilitator myself, and the costs were just for the course materials.
We have three visions. The first is for each of us to be personally viable and financially independent. This involves a program of skills trainings in sewing and cooking and how to do this for selling. It also involves teaching women good home management and housekeeping skills, and we decided to organise an annual show to showcase different sewing items, weaving and cooking styles and recipes.
The second vision is to have families who are physically healthy and care for each other in the community where they live. This will involve trainings by Ward Counsellors, Health Workers, Education and Church workers etc, to teach basic hygiene and women’s health, good nutrition using locally available food, to avoid common diseases like diabetes, TB, obesity. To look out for breast cancer and cervix cancer which a lot of our women are dying from. To teach HIV/AIDS awareness to all women, and to teach how to stop stigma against those who are infected by HIV/AIDS.
And our third vision is to have women come to socialise themselves with others, to encourage unity and togetherness in Sports, Community Work, Family Projects and Business.
Dr Julianne Stewart