Violence in West Papua: vulnerable are the latest target
Who would lead us Péngé?

Holistic community development: a practical example


The village 1I am reading with interest the discussion in PNG Attitude arising from Geoffrey Barker's article. From the tone of the discussion there seems to be a feeling of helplessness and defeat, yet I refuse to accept this and will continue to hope for my country for what good are we if we give up?

I was in the middle of writing a longer paper in relation to holisitic community development but in response to the discussion decided to show there are positives happening in PNGand that all is not doom and gloom.

Yes we are in the birthing stages, the labour is hard and painful and we need someone to hold our hand and encourage us even as we are ranting and raving, but we will get through if not in my lifetime then in the next generation but we must start and do something and move.

NO CULTURE EVER REMAINS STATIC. It is constantly evolving in order to adapt to the influences of its surrounding   environs.

PNG is no exception. The reality of a very technological era is encroaching upon a people who are crawling out of the Stone Age and learning to stand and walk in these modern times.  We are being asked to make astronomical adjustments in development and attitudes that took our “developed” friends hundreds of years to “perfect”.

In order to do this we need to understand the reality of our current situation- the forces influencing and encroaching upon our thought and behaviour and how this can be harnessed to facilitate and empower a nation whose population is rural based with very limited formal education.

There are good discussions and plans (2050 Vision, MDGs etc) to help PNG become a “smart, wise, fair and happy country.” As we all are aware however a plan is only as good as the people implementing it and the majority of the people for whom these plans are intended have no idea of its existence.

The government has realised that this mammoth task can not be achieved by itself and that it requires various approaches from all sectors. The challenge is rather than reinventing the wheel, how can we better build the capacities of what is existing and has been proven to work in order to capitalize on the wealth of knowledge and experience already on the ground?

In order for plans to be successfully implemented, grassroots community mobilisation has to occur. People within communities must grasp what real development is and take ownership of their own well being: there must be a seamless integration of the physical, social, psychological and spiritual development of an individual and community simultaneously.  If this does not happen, nothing “injected” into a community can ever be sustained.

There are three important realities of PNG communities:

We are a very animistic society (and have a very spiritual bond to our land)

Christian influence has infiltrated nearly every culture in PNG becoming itself a culture

We are a community oriented oral society

When working with communities these facts must be acknowledged and utilised. Rather than approaching communities with “my facts and values” learn to listen to “their facts and values.”  Rather than imposing a secular world view that does not make sense try to understand their world views and help them discover what is good, what is bad and how they would like to change it.

There have been three main impacts of modernisation on communities:

Breakdown of traditional community structures and responsibilities

Abuse of traditional customs for personal gain

Lack of formal education has stunted adaptation to modern influences and systems

Realising holistic transformation for communities is no easy task and will take time. It requires love, courage, discernment, wisdom, long sufferance and personal sacrifice. It requires (sensitive) confrontations with age old belief systems and taboos that restrict the expansion of individual and collective world views.

It also requires global propositions to be translated to very local solutions and then facilitating this in a practical manner so that ownership and understanding of sustainable development is not only grasped but applied and becomes the norm. It’s also about adjusting our understanding of how basic health and education issues must be culturally relevant in order to create a better life for all.

It’s about local people finding local solutions for local problems using local knowledge and resources and progressing from there. How fast that progression is depends upon individual communities and their leaders.

We cannot force “development” but hopefully can facilitate enough models to awaken a desire for change in people.   It also depends upon functioning government systems that can get alongside communities and encourage their attempts of self improvements without being patronizing.

Churches are readily present in communities (some have more than one) and have a functioning system and influence in the communities. It must be noted here that the government and churches have a very unique partnership wherein the government allocates grants to churches to run health and education services especially in rural and remote areas and the churches are responsible to implement, report and acquit to the government the activities they undertake.

They are part and parcel of the provincial functions in health and education. The government respects the autonomy of individual churches yet requires that they implement its prerogatives.

Concerning health, the Christian Health Services of PNG (formerly Churches Medical Council) is an entity comprised of 25 denominations who provide health care in mostly rural settings and also run training schools for Community Health Workers and Nurses.

The Secretariat Office is in Port Moresby and is responsible for receiving and disbursing government grants and holding individual agencies accountable to report and acquit. 

Some member agencies within this group have banded together to create a health promotion/prevention and community mobilisation program known as EDEN (Effective Development Empowering the Nation).

They are using the governments Healthy Islands concept along with the Community Health Evangelism materials of LifeWind International to help communities understand the basics of development and how to be creative in discovering solutions to their problems.

The key is not to single out a specific church but have the whole community working together under the common denominator of health training, facilitated by the health worker of a member CHS. This serves to unify communities who would otherwise have church affiliations and not participate if it were a purely church activity.

There are variations to this model to suit individual community dynamics. In all this the participation of local level government and district administrations is sought to tie in the community to their plans etc.

Keeping in mind the 3 realities of communities within PNG and the impact of modernisation upon them, EDENs hope is to facilitate ownership and structure using the Communities understanding of their own realities. The key is to empower communities to realise their worth and understand what sustainable development is in order to create better health and educational opportunities for themselves.

They are trained in creating dreams for their communities and in using simple methods(participatory learning activities) to help identify and address issues impeding them in achieving progress and how they can address them (this is a community solution and not influenced by the facilitator).

The reality however is that we’re working with people and people are not static. They will never fit a mould and things are bound to get messy at times. We must therefore empower them with tools so that they can clean their own mess and carve out their own future with understanding and dignity.

Saviya village: A journey from war to peace – holistic transformation

The village 2Saviya is a village in the Komperi valley in the Henganofi District of Eastern Highlands Province. It is located alongside the Okuk Highway which dissects it.

Prior to the training which was conducted in 2002, Saviya was involved in tribal warfare with a neighbouring tribe for 14 years. In order to carry on fighting the community resorted to illegal activities to fund their ammunitions supply.

This involved the growth and sale of marijuana and armed hold ups of vehicles passing through their section of the highway. During this time, their land was razed, their houses burned and they were a displaced people sheltering with sympathisers wherever they could.

After 14 years of such a life style the leader in this warfare had had enough and wanted peace. He stopped the fighting and wanted to settle yet realised he had no means by which to provide an alternative to his youth who were not schooled and restless. He also noticed that the people now resettling were disoriented and structure was needed in the community to give stability.

As he was contemplating this, a health worker called Helen from a nearby health centre noticed the tribe trying to re-settle and approached them with the proposition to provide tools that they could utilise to create structure and mobilise people to start working for their own improvement. Helen had been recently trained in the healthy island and community health evangelism by the Eastern Highlands Health Department.

The leader readily agreed and Helen along with another health worker Esther (who had also received the same training as Helen) started training the community. The first issue to be addressed was the dignity and worth of individuals and the collective community. Carefully facilitating lessons, these young women helped the community realise their self worth and the ability they had in creating a better life for themselves. 

They then helped facilitate an appreciative inquiry session where the community was asked to express what made them like their tribe and place and how did they see themselves 5 years from now? In visioning how they wanted their village to look they had to deal with deep seated tribal beliefs and customs and discover what hindered them and what strengthened them and what they needed to do if they were to progress.

This training took nearly 2 months to complete and had other topics concerning holistic health and the practicality of understanding this in our everyday interactions and its impacts. By the end of this training the community had appointed a committee and this committee was also trained by the two ladies on their duties and responsibilities.

For the next 3 years this village would receive constant visits from Esther or Helen who would bring with them new picture book lessons or stories and train appointed volunteers whose task it then was to visit at least 5 homes in a month and share this information with them. Public awareness is not enough, the messages had to be personal (they used their clinical patrol times and even their own free time to do this).

Since 2002 Saviya village has seen great transformation. The people are physically well and the only time they visit the health centre where Helen and Esther worked (both have left the centre) was when they contracted malaria in their travels to Lae and Madang to sell their vegetables. All children in this village are immunized and antenatal and post natal attendance at the clinic by women from this village is good.

All houses have ventilation and cooking areas are separate to sleeping quarter, animals are fenced (this community has a majority of Seventh Day Adventists so no problems with pigs) all homes have good toilets and all school age children are in school. Women have an active participation in community decisions and are part of the Committee.

They reconciled with their enemy and signed a peace agreement and now pursue activities which enhance their well being and act as a model village where trainers from other areas can visit, wander and get ideas about how they can implement a similar model in their villages. Their youth also decided to destroy their marijuana gardens and pursue honest means of work.

This village has been able to maintain what they have learned since 2002 and in the process have attracted various organisations to work with them in implementing various agriculture, water and sanitation programs.

Earlier this year the European Union through its water and sanitation program recognised Saviya as only one of 3 villages in the 365 villages they are working in, in PNG as being eligible to receive a Higher Development Community certificate because they truly understood holistic health. 

This is one example of many communities throughout PNG who are taking the initiative to do something for themselves.


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Philip Kai Morre

Thank you Emma for your insights. In our traditional society, our mode of development was kinly, physically, spiritually, psychologically, environmentally, culturally and politically based. This is what we call sustainable development.

Our mode of development in the contemporary world is becoming secularised, where money is our main commodity.

When one aspect of development is missing, like say spiritual development, holistic development will fail.

A human is an embodied spirit with a rational mind that can think, plan and do things independently and we have to balance them to achieve holistic human development.

We have to develop physically, spiritually and mentally to balance our existence.

All other physical development involving roads and bridges, schools, health services, agriculture, forestry and others are aiming towards progressive human development which is a means to an end.

Any development without taking into account human development will fail.

People already know how to develop but when we impose our selfish ideas and methods of doing things upon them, they will not work.

Foreign aid and donor funding fall short of developing human beings because their approach is paternalistic.

When imposing their ideology, methods and thinking that people being incapable it wont work.

When we build trust in the people and work with them from what they know and allow them to take ownership, we expect social human progress.

When people are happy in experiencing transformation of society into a better place there is integral human development.

Napolian Ogen Penick

From the article above, about the Saviya people, i can tell that they are moving forward to accomplish some real big change in their lives.

James Macpherson

We would like to strengthen 'community engagement' at Divine Word University - and learn more from what others are doing.

Community engagement would mean working with and activating community strengths for community development.

We have been impressed by CBCH - and hope to hear from others in 'effective development empowering the nation (by communities).

Peter Warwick

Emma, this is indeed good news and the leaders of Saviya are to be congratulated on a world beating transformation. May it continue.

Bob Cleland

That's really good to hear Emma. I would like to think that Saviya village is just one of many throughout PNG where people are doing positive things for themselves.

Last April, I joined a small cruise ship travelling from Alotau to Rabaul. Every day we called and went ashore at villages in the D'Entrecasteaux group, the Trobriand group, along the south coast of New Britain, southern New Ireland and the Duke of Yorks.

I embarked on this journey determined to find positive things happening at village level. All we hear in Australia from the media are the negatives of PNG. I know there are positives and I wanted to find them.

From day one, I didn't have to find positives for myself - I was, we all were, confronted with positives every day. Nearly everywhere we went, villagers were saying "The Government doesn't look after us any more. We realise we have to help ourselves.'

They are doing this at community level by forming small incorporated bodies to focus on such things as economic enterprises, social organisations, and school governing bodies.

These villages have a clean, prosperous look about them. The people are happy and outgoing, holding their heads high, and giving us a grand welcome. It was really good to see.

I quickly got into the habit of seeking out the older men and women so I could talk more intimately about how things are for them. As soon as I switched from English to tok pisin they realised I wasn't a typical tourist!

Everywhere, the period before independence, is referred to as 'gut taim befo' or 'gut taim bilong kiap'. Everywhere, villagers were looking forward to the elections in the hope that honest people with provincial and national outlooks would be elected. They, and us, await the outcome eagerly.

Maybe the Saviya and other self-help villages of PNG are the beginnings of a bottom upwards move towards a better deal for all of PNG? Let's hope.

Mrs Barbara Short

Thank you very much, Emma, for this wonderful story, full of hope and real positive signs of true development at the grassroots level.

These village people have looked at themselves and taken responsibility for their problems and are working hard to solve them, with help from their friends.

And two ladies helped to initiate this change. Thank God for the brave ladies who care and are allowed to work with the men who want change.

The "dignity and worth of individuals and the collective community" is so important, whether it is in the village or in the towns and cities.

If only these concepts could be applied to the PNG Parliament! Let us hope that the politicians who are elected will be "reconciled with their enemies" and now pursue activities which enhance the parliament's well being and provide holistic government for the whole country.

They say the love of money is the root of all evil and one has the feeling that some of the educated people, who have been given the responsibilty to run the country after Independence, have allowed their morals to be corrupted by the thoughts of all the wealth that will flow from the LNG project.

They imagine how this money can make themselves and their own electorate rich. They need to be made to realize that this money has to trickle down to every village in PNG in a fair way.

Honest, caring people, who put the village people first, must be put in charge, if the money is to be used wisely for the good of the Grassroots people, as seen in this story of Saviya.

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