LAIAGAM – It was seven years ago, during the 2012 national election, that I first witnessed that a larger number of young people living in my community in Enga Province were HIV victims.
My home village is Niunk in the Lagaip-Porgera district. Nearby villages include Kanak, Wanepap, Komaip, Waiyap and Lakris.
My friends in those villages left high schools at that time in 2012 to get involved in the election. I was going to do the same but withdrew since in those days I was a drunkard and chasing women.
Even without me, this was one of the worst elections Enga ever had. Millions of kina floated around amongst the politicians who wanted to win a seat. There was money to be had.
Many students left school, marriages were broken, Christians backslid and churches were in a state of apostasy.
But worst of all was the dreadful threat, the issue of greatest impact, and that was HIV.
In our isolated societies, money plays a major role. People mostly don’t have cash crops and other ways to secure an income. They have fertile land but are too lazy to cultivate it.
Young people survive as refugees on their own land; they don’t care very much how they survive. They think it is OK to earn money from stealing, gambling or waiting around for cargo.
And then there’s HIV. There are a number of contributing factors to the spread of this disease.
They include easy cash (maybe from elections, maybe from illegal mining), drunkenness, drug taking and pornography.
Cash was not so important in the 2007 national election but later in both 2012 and 2017 it was. Enga is a society in which people choose leaders by wealth and in 2012 students left school to get some of the cash that flowed from candidates. There was a lot of thinking about today but no thinking about tomorrow.
In 2012, an HIV awareness was carried out by a team from the University of Goroka. It was called Komuniti Tok Piksa. A research team came to Niunk village to investigate how much knowledge community members had about HIV and how they should respond to it as a community.
But that made no difference. During the 2012 election, there was money around and young people engaged in sexual practices, behaving like dogs in the street. Married couples divorced.
Between then and the 2017 national election, I observed colleagues who were HIV positive. They lost weight, their skin turned black and there were other signs and symptoms. It was one of the most shocking things I have faced.
Three young people from Niunk village died from HIV in that period of five years. One of my uncles died more recently, just in March. Cardinal Sir John Ribat says Enga leads PNG in HIV/AIDS statistics. It is not something we want to be top of.
The illegal miners scratching around the Porgera gold mine spend their money at Niunk and Waiyap night clubs. Women, especially young girls, go from my village and get drunk and catch HIV. Parents sometimes try to protect their daughters but the girls make a choice to visit night clubs.
These things have been a problem in the Niunk, Komaip, Kanak and Waiyap villages for a long time now.
People also invented a new homebrew called levilape. It’s a mixture of rapeseed, bananas, sugar, yeast and chocolate and it has utterly oppressed the community.
Young people give up going to school, the brew poisons their brains and they abandon any vision and dream they had about their future. They see each day as the end of life and they make poor choices, ending up in trouble.
They spend money on drinking beer and on sex, they don’t seem to care about HIV or not. They just quench the sexual desire and become HIV victims.
Then there is drug-taking, another confronting issue in these communities. People in all parts of Laiagam grow their own marijuana and sell it to others as well as using it for their own consumption.
I’ve heard it reported that almost three-quarters of the population, male and female, use marijuana. People think marijuana stops HIV/AIDS from spreading to all parts of the body.
Finally, there is porn watching. Yes, people access internet sex. In Niunk, there are video shows everywhere and youths had much interest in watching.
They feel amazed watching porn, it stimulates the brain and they want to have sex with any female, old or young. Another step on the road to being an HIV victim.
My personal solution is that, if parents send children to school and church which have more discipline, this would minimise the HIV problem in the communities of Laiagam.