Thursday, October 23, 2014

Banana Block Deserves Some Attention

Goroka is always refreshing and despite the deteriorating state of infrastructure the warmth from these people reassures humanity there is more to life.

A couple of months back in July this year I had the opportunity to visit the famous Banana Block. It is not a place many city dwellers would like to visit on any other day. Yet this visit was a nice reminder of how modern developments in Port Moresby’s rush for growth are leaving behind the very people that matter.

As I share kaukau from this mama’s barbecue plate with my friend Awayang Namorong I looked back at the track we had taken this morning. It had been raining for the week and down here on this ankle deep muddy trek to our meeting point there were teapots, barbecue plates and dishes over small fires with kaukau, sausage and lamp flaps. Bingo, decks of cards, cigarettes and betelnuts are out and life goes on for them as they ushered us and made sure we didn’t slip and fall on this ugly mud. Some even apologized for the condition of the road.

A 15-minute walk had taken us paved-road trekkers or office dwellers some 45 minutes to reach our destination.

The ward councilor met us and rearranged the chairs now that the sun is out. He is a pleasant humble man of prayer from Lufa and he tells of his struggles to keep his community together and at the same time access government services for them.

For women in settlements like Banana Block life can be harsh. Kafe Women’s Association had started humbly to try and help curb their law and order situation but also find ways to help their women earn an income and live a dignified life in Goroka. In addition to literacy, counseling and peace mediation work they ran sewing classes some 10 years ago and today they are making professional PNG women’s wear and school uniforms for some schools in Eastern Highlands yet they continue to struggle with their law and order situation.

As more people move from their rural villages to seek work in towns the pressure is often on the settlements to house them. Banana Block is no stranger to the tag ‘notorious’ but it is not so on the edge any more as Goroka town grows. Proper sanitation, good road inlets, a stocked up health post and a school are necessary for a growing settlement. Creative opportunities for young people are also needed.

Life is difficult on the edges of cities but the perseverance of these people has for years helped to keep cities and towns alive.  They are prepared to put in more work hours, go through the difficulties of keeping those jobs and getting less pay. It is in the margins that humanity finds meaning to life. They deserve to be heard.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Our Island food champions

Meet our 'island food' champions; Leo Nainoka from Fiji and Numalin Mahana from Vanuatu.

Numalin Mahana standing in red dress during a food training
 on Tanna Island,Vanuatu. Photo by VKS. 
Island food is our everyday lifestyle in the Pacific - sweet fresh banana, taros, kumara or kaukau as we know it in PNG, kulau, and hundreds of kumu. Only the language has shifted from island food to slow food.

Leo's posts on facebook between the hours of 11:00am and 2:00pm are just the sort that catches facebook users at the right hour and sends them off to eateries in Suva, Port Vila or Port Moresby. Numalin on the other hand makes sure the larger populations of Vanuatu remain healthy and hold fast their tradition of which island food plays an important part.

Slow food is what it is. It is slow. It takes about 9-10 months to grow yams. It takes over an hour to cook these yams once harvested. And it takes nice slow eating because it has not been processed for quick swallows.
Leo Nainoka (kneeling) making a point during the Madang
Wansolwara Dance. Photo by Milton Kwaipo

Slow is about a lifestyle - it is about looking after our health. The process of planting and waiting for the yam to grow and to mature is a long wait. So what do people do in that space of time? For islanders we spend in the bush with birds and trees or we go to the sea and enjoy the cooling experience of the seas while we catch a fish or two for dinner. Then in the evenings we tell stories, for some of us we take a couple of bowls of kava and we tell more stories and we go to sleep.

The cooking takes long because we are cooking ourselves. We know exactly what we are cooking. There is coconut milk, there is some salt, water fetched from this part of the river and we have saved the head for the next planting season. When we sit around the pot of yams, our plates are filled. Some evenings we choose to eat just yams. Then we talk about the new gardens we are making, the seeds we will need and there in our midst are our young, listening quietly as they finish up their meals.

Island food is a whole way of being. It is about our health, our sovereignty, our sustenance and its about us - a people.

A tribute to James Sunga

Mr James Sungai Passed On But An Irreplaceable Legacy Remains


by Yat Paol

Mr James Sungai was rushed by family members to the nearby Alexishafen Health Centre at around 3:00 AM, Wednesday 1st October 2014 (PNG time), in the hope of saving him from yet another feat serious of asthma. The attempt did not work out unfortunately.

The late James Sungai passed on then, leaving an irreplaceable legacy! He was a father, not only to his family and clan, but to all the youth of Kananam and the entire local region. And specially during these tough times of rapid change and industrialisation, the youth and all peoples in impacted communities like Kananam and the entire Madang Lagoon, urgently need father and mother figures to obtain courage, strength and advice from.

Mam Sungai (as he was fondly referred to by practically everybody) never backed down, as a father figure and as a leader. He served two five-year terms in flying colours, as elected ward member (councillor) for ward 10, Ambenob LLG, Madang. And throughout his adult life until his passing on, Mam Sungai served his Kananam community and the wider surrounds as a most renown and highly respected traditional leader.


His brand of elected leadership was very unique and pretty much unheard of: for instance, he tolerated no secrets, so that when cash or cargo was offered him as bribes, he took those willingly but never stopped speaking up for his people’s rights. His people and their situation was most important than anything else! The people and particularly the youth of Kananam, ward 10 (Ambenob LLG), Madang Lagoon, and the entire Madang province have before them a question to seriously consider and answer: Is late Mam Sungai’s style/brand of leadership worth learning from?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Vanuatu would do well to wait for PNG on seabed mining

Vanuatu has just finished its 3-day national consultation on seabed mining.

This consultation heard that there will not be any impact and the monetary returns would be good for the country.

But Vanuatu would do well to wait and see how seabed mining will turn out for Papua New Guinea.

For the region and internationally the first ever seabed mining activity will be tested in Papua New Guinea. This proposal to test this seabed mining technology received a lot of opposition and resistance continues on the ground.

Due to widespread public pressure the Peter O’Neill government decided to go with the people and stop seabed mining. The company Nautilus Minerals wasn’t going to walk away. It came back and reminded PNG it had a legal contract in the agreement and PNG had to comply.

There is a lot of talk about mineral ownership and the people are reminded that the minerals belong to the state. Yes according to the laws yes the stones belong to the state but the people own the land and the seas. However, in order to get to the minerals the company and the state must open or enter people’s land. By PNG’s constitution it means trespassing on people’s land.

At the marketing stage of the project it sounds very simple and the promise of no impact is buyable. However, for PNG the realities for all land based mining projects are regrettable. Ok Tedi Mining Limited formerly Australia’s BHP Billiton’s project convinced the government of Papua New Guinea that there will be no environmental impact. Today it is among the world’s 10 worst environmental disasters. On Bounganville when Panguna Mine went wrong with its environmental management and greed of profits a war broke out and lasted ten years and Bouganville lost more than 20,000 men, women and children.

Nautilus Minerals told the consultation last week there will be no processing onshore and therefore there will be no tailings but they will pump back into the sea access water. The people of New Ireland are not convinced there will be no impact as already they are experiencing unexplained dust on their reefs and fish diving grounds. This impact on the livelihoods of the people cannot be ignored and Nautilus Minerals has not yet began operations.

The monetary returns must be properly calculated. For the PNG experimental seabed mining project the state has a 30% share equity. For Vanuatu what would it be for prospecting and for operating? How much of it would go to the state and how much would go to the people?

The consultation heard seabed mining at its exploration stage is very expensive. Who will bear the cost?

It would be good for Vanuatu to wait and learn from Papua New Guinea.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sea transport; a much neglected sector in PNG

Just last week I saw him hanging out with his boys. He was a humble young man. His name is Wiwi Barong.

His high school teaching responsibility sent him to supervise grade 10 exams at Rai Coast High School in Madang. It was an ordinary Monday for him. He was among 16 others who got on this late afternoon boat ride and headed out to sea. The ride was supposed to be two hours.

By Tuesday noon word reached his Good Shepherd Lutheran High School community that he was among three still not found. Dumbfounded, lost for words, hearts stopped, tears dropped and the community stood wondering what happened but remembered that wind from yesterday. Yes that wind wasn't the normal wind.

As a single young man he had opened his house for young relatives from Southern Highlands to stay with him and access school. Painted in mud these young men come to school to sit for their exams and each afternoon after exams for the last three days they wait for him on the beach. He was their anchor.

Mr Barong is one of many Papua New Guineans who have fallen victim to their government's failure to improve the general transport system in this country. Maritime communities have resorted to banana boats for long distances in rough seas. Many times accidents happen, lives are lost and the issue of safety at sea is raised but like a flower this issue withers very quickly.

Too many boat owners fail to pay attention to safety. Many times they ignore strong winds and without safety gear they take overloaded boats out. It is easy to blame these people but where is a policy that enforces the safety. Was there any strong wind warnings?

Much has been said before. Another investigation will run on this accident and then what?

The transport sector seriously needs some very serious attention. Here is a teacher. Some 200 students have been affected due to this accident. We have had students, polling officers and ballot boxes lost, farmers and fresh produce, health workers and many others fall victim of bad weather and poor transport system.

When will our governments get serious about prioritizing its people? When will Madang see some real boats for the people of Rai Coast, Karkar Is, Bagabag Is and Long Island?

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