KOKOPO - Maramuni, a poorly developed region in Enga Province, is experiencing the wind of change as a new road project, initiated by national government minister Dr Lino Tom, takes shape.
The Maramuni local level government is located 250 kilometres north-west of Wabag, the provincial capital.
The fastest way to get there is by plane and the slowest, two or three days from Wabag, requires trudging across rugged hills, fast flowing rivers and mud saturated tracks.
It is also the home for myriad of wild life, including rare birds of paradise. The land is fertile and produces a diversity of crops. The peanuts grown in Maramuni are sweet, in high demand and traded as far away as Porgera and Wabag.
While there are schools, a health centre and several churches ministering to the spiritual needs of the people, there is no commercial activity except for a bit of alluvial gold mining around the base of the mountains.
Due to the area’s isolation from the melting pots of modernity, it has never seen any major development. While the rest of Papua New Guinea moved forward, Maramuni was retreating.
Many people dream of the bright lights and migrate to towns and cities. Wherever they settle, the camp is given the name Maramuni. From these settlements, Maramuni children are given an opportunity to get a higher education and be part of the nation’s development.
Although the population of Maramuni is less than 15,000, in the recent past there has been much tribal fighting which has claimed many lives.
Many of the national leaders who represented the Wabag Open Electorate have failed miserably to bring tangible development to Maramuni.
During elections, many would-be politicians travel to Maramuni by foot or, if they have money to throw around, helicopter. They all promise to bring development to the region.
But once they get the mandate, experience the limelight and bask upon the dizzy heights of fame, they forget the people.
Maramuni remained forgotten and isolated.
Then, during the 2017 nation election, a young and vibrant doctor, Lino Tom, emerged.
He had completed a medical degree at the University of Papua New Guinea and served for a number of years, latterly as CEO of Sopas Adventist Hospital.
Lino Tom contested the Wabag Open seat against incumbent Robert Ganim. During his campaign, he walked to Maramuni. He assured the people that if he won election, he would build a road and open Maramuni to civilisation.
Moved by his sincerity and understanding, the people voted for him.
Lino Tom emerged victorious but, when the government was formed, he was in opposition.
In May last year, the Marape government came to power in PNG and Dr Tom was appointed fisheries and marine minister.
Now better positioned to help the people of Maramuni, he wasted no time fulfilling his election promise and organised funds for heavy equipment to start building the road that would link the remote area the world beyond for the first time.
So construction began and moved rapidly through mountains, valleys and rivers. Already 25 kilometers has been built and there is another 20 to go before reaching Pasalangus, the Maramuni headquarters.
Last month, Dr Lino Tom went to Maramuni and spent a week at the construction site in the jungle to speed up development, motivate workers and inspire people to take ownership of the project.
His presence was a moral boaster for the workers and people of all of Maramuni.
It seems that God has sent a servant-leader who made it his business to break the cage and set the people free. The light is finally shining on Maramuni.
At present, ten seaters have begun to travel on the newly built section of road. Truly there is a wing of change blowing in Maramuni.
People who have lived without too much expectation are now seeing the light of amazing possibilities.
Prayers have been answered and they feel that Dr Lino Tom is God sent - a new breed of politician, a game changer, a rising star in the Engan political landscape, a man who understands the people’s predicament and who, when he promises, delivers.
Dr Lino Tom has become the bridge to a better life for the people of Maramuni.