FETES are my happy place.
Cake stalls brimming with cellophane-encased home baked delights. Chewy soft-centred Anzac biscuits and dainty squares of ginger slice.
All closely guarded by baking mums and their competitive-edged conversation.
And mountains of paperbacks atop weathered fold-out tables selling at a pittance of their retail price.
This the scenario to which I retreat when confronted with unpleasant feelings. My happy place.
Ironic then that my delving into escapism would conjure feelings of despair.
The instigator being a once-treasured copy of The Dressmaker, authored by the same Posie Graeme-Evans who created and produced the Australian television series so very loved by Papua New Guineans, McLeod’s Daughters.
One of Graeme-Evans phrases in The Dressmaker particularly consumed me. ‘If she forgot, the thicket of barbs would rake her skin’.
The ticket of barbs raking my skin precisely captures my disappointment in occasional responses in comments in PNG Attitude to articles on social injustice.
Responses that boldly assert that ‘only fools talk’ or make proclamations that all people can be defined as ‘talkers, do-ers and watchers’.
Partly because such words resonate with the arrogance of my calculus-savvy high school peers. Those geeks who jeered that my much-prized ‘participation certificate’ was official notation of ‘thanks for coming’ to the nation’s maths competition.
But more because they suggest foolishness; ignorance to the often cyclic nature of talking, doing and watching.
Such a categorical assignment of an individual’s efforts at social activism is slighting.
I mean, truly, is there anyone who all they’ve done the days of their life is talk, talk and talk? Or only ever played the meek, unaffected spectator at every turn? We’ve all undertaken to participate in one or two or three role simultaneously.
Unfortunately, it is indifference, failure to assist and wavering support that act as catalysts to create more talkers or watchers and fewer do-ers.
Of late ‘talking’ has been queen of the trifecta in my undertakings. But certainly not without exhaustive attempts at watching and doing.
An introductory brief to an imminent seminar, Failing to develop or developing to fail?, by Papua New Guinea University of Technology’s Professor Albert Schram cites Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson’s “Why Nations Fail’ (2011).
Acemoglu and Robinson argue that “corruption of the political system, rather than lack of knowledge about effective development policies are the root cause of poverty and lack of development…. It is not ignorance but self-interest of the political elites which holds back a country's development.”
To exsanguinate bad blood, earlier this year my article, Keeping the brains away: the curse of the non-resident PNGn, was a reflection on my experiences with unfounded bias and irrational decision-making by Papua New Guineans in deliberately not recruiting non-resident PNG professionals.
Acemoglu and Robinson’s notion is perhaps an eloquent confirmation of that practice.
Investigations and commentary by Human Rights Watch highlighted that there is a shortage of Papua New Guinean professionals who can provide psychosocial counselling and effective case management.
Janet Walsh’s open letter to prime minister Peter O’Neill cited the PNG government’s 2014 submission to the United Nations on strategies to combat gender-based violence identified “only three qualified counsellors in PNG and no mechanism for supervising the counseling service”.
I’d argue that these dire figures reflect the ignorance of those mandated with the task of developing psychosocial policy, frameworks and longer-term therapeutic interventions accessible to all PNG citizens.
Papua New Guinea does have tertiary qualified people who are highly experienced in psychosocial case management service delivery. I know, because I’m one of them.
But, like a small handful of other similarly trained Papua New Guineans, I watch in dismay as PNG’s elected government and international donors and aid agencies continue to hatch campaigns, ad hoc training programs and short-lived services.
Not only in family and sexual violence but also in mental health, children and youth advocacy and juvenile (youth) justice.
All the while, our persistent urging to share information and develop and train effective service delivery for our people has gone unanswered. Why? It is for them to answer.
Who then is to blame if a ‘do-er’ turns ‘talker’ and potentially ‘watcher’?
My other ‘happy place’
It is a place where Papua New Guineans who have been subjected to (or perpetrated) personal violation are acknowledged as having trauma and needing medium to long–term support for their recovery.
This support should be provided only by Papua New Guineans equipped with comprehensive theoretical understanding and well-practised professional skills.
It is a place where unfaltering concern and open dialogue about suicide risk and ideation prevention is encouraged, its assessment thorough and articulated in documentation.
It is a place where Papua New Guineans are given support in independent settings but through collaboration with other agencies like police, lawyers, educational institutions, accommodation providers and health and medical services. Effective case plans identify individual needs that can be addressed through available, realistic options.
It is a place where international commentary, theses and opinion articles focus less on lagging service gaps and more on the effective service provision.
It is a place where those ‘doing’ far outnumber those who are ‘talking’ and ‘watching’.