SHILA YUKULI PAIA
ADELAIDE - Over coffee with a friend recently, a comment made me rethink everything Papua New Guinea.
My friend said to me that, if anyone wanted to see, feel or experience freedom, they only had to go to PNG.
I was surprised by the statement until I thought of the situation faced by our Melanesian country-people at the West Papua border, the Rohingyas in Myanmar and indigenous Australians.
And I wondered whether we might have had a different history compared to today.
We owe much to our founding fathers, Michael Somare, John Guise, John Momis, Peter Lus and others who sat under a tree in Lae one day in the 1960s and decided we must have a united Papua New Guinea.
They took us to self-government in 1973 and on to political independence with peace and unity on 16 September 1975.
As both a Papua New Guinean and a woman from the Highlands, I’m inclined to ask is celebration of freedom enough? True, the world is closer, fairer, more advanced, better educated and more affluent than ever before but how far have we come as a nation over those 44 years?
On 10 October 1975, soon after gaining political independence, PNG became a signatory to United Nations Security Resolution 375 - that Papua New Guinea be admitted to membership in the UN.
It happened the day I was born.
In a cold cave, I was the first-born female child to a chief’s daughter.
As I got older, I understood that opportunities to access school and to have a formal education was mostly restricted to boys in our village.
Paying high school fees for a naïve, immature teenage girl was a big financial risk for the clan.
High school was a few days walk away from my village, but I eventually got there.
It was the place where dreams became almost real. I dreamed to pursue a career as a nurse and, eventually, a medical doctor. It was just a dream though – and it was inevitably short lived due to cultural obligations.
But I remained ambitious and was fortunate and now see that I have been very privileged to live, work and study in Australia for the last 12 years of my life.
Here in an affluent society, I eat good meals, sleep on a good bed and enjoy everything that can make me happy.
Given my background, I couldn’t be entirely comfortable with these luxuries and one day in 2009 there was a new beginning.
That day began a fire that continues to burn in me and pushes me to take risks, cry louder, get righteously angry and go the extra mile.
That was when SoilChild was born. SoilChild is my calling and it presented me with a difficult mission.
It is an the branding of my story and similar stories of many other children in the rural majority or the growing urban squatter settlements of PNG.
SoilChild is grounded in the belief that all children and individuals are of value and worth; and every part of their story is important. Every person is equal, with no discrimination as to sex, age, gender, social status and disability.
Every person can use their story to build a good life, to access education and health care, to make money, sleep on a good bed, eat a good meal, enjoy life and live a few more years than the 57 which is our average life expectancy.
SoilChild is a vision that focuses on interrupting a poverty that is not just about money but voicelessness, powerlessness, suppression, disadvantage and denial of opportunity. Poverty that deprives individuals from exercising their rights, choice and freedom.
This form of poverty is rooted in lack of basic services, unequal distribution of resources and power and a socio-cultural definition of personhood, identity and status. This form of poverty is intergenerational.
SoilChild believes that the primary school as a gateway to formal education should be a friendly space where both community and school share resources and learn together to be self-reliant, make money, be peaceful, be a good steward and be a leader who can design and implement projects to escape poverty.
Our Dauli Dem model library in Hela Province is being completed this year and by the beginning of 2020 we envision to fully resource it with computers and books.
As for the future, we now dream for our model to be replicated elsewhere in Hela and in Papua New Guinea.
Please watch this space for more on our other projects.