By STEVEN WINDUO
I TRADE my intellectual capital for a high return. It helps me to participate in the international labour movement from a developing world to a developed world. All my intellectual training and preparation are traded at the international level.
I have enjoyed the privilege of working as an academic in USA and New Zealand. The conditions of employment were much more attractive than those offered to me in my home university. The salaries are three or four times more attractive than that earned in Papua New Guinea.
In the past I have held positions of visiting professorship with the University of Minnesota, USA, Research Fellow with the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Arthur Lynn Andrews Chair of Asian and Pacific Island Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA, and Associate Research Fellow at the East West Centre, USA. Recently I participated as a fellow with the Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange (WrICE) of the Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia.
Even though these windows of opportunity allow me to test my market value as an academic, writer and scholar it is the privilege of competition among my peers in the Pacific region and around the world that inspires me.
Many international organizations and institutions have given me various platforms to stand on. I get invited to participate in short programs, workshops, conferences, and festivals. I get to trade my skills and knowledge as a writer and Indigenous scholar. I get a lot of invitations to participate in many international events such as writers’ festivals or workshops on Pacific Islands’ cultures and knowledge systems. With the invitations come free tickets and accommodation in expensive hotels, an escape from the depressing home environment I live and work in at home.
The best part of working as a writer scholar in my home university for the last 27 years is that I get to represent Papua New Guinea at the international level every time an opportunity comes knocking on my door. I have travelled the world, seen the world, and talked about my writing, research, and my country in places I have never thought I would ever see. I have read my work in a university café in Alberta University, Canada, in the University of Minnesota, in the University of Philippines and Aiyala Museum, Makati, Philippines, in the Canterbury Arts Theatre, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, in University of Hawaii, and recently in the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Melbourne.
I have rubbed shoulders with some of the giants in the world of writing: Drusilla Modjeska, Sonia Sanchez, Thea Ashley, Trevor Shearston, Albert Wendt, Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace, Bernadette Hall, Konai Helu Thaman, Epeli Hau’ofa, Nalo Hopkinson, Christina Thompson, George Lamming, Christos Tsiolkas, Sam Pickering, Vilsoni Hereniko, Caroline SInavaiana Gabbard, Sia Figiel, John Kasaipwalova, Nora Vagi Brash, and Russell Soaba. Many of them remain close friends throughout my life.
The best part of all this is that I have a voice—an authentic PNG voice to speak at international fixtures without having to look for alternate voices. I speak as an Indigenous writer scholar from Papua New Guinea. I live and breathe in my homeland, a position of privilege that I am happy to share if there is one other like me. It is a position of authority and power that I bring to the international space.
I realized that occupying such a position at the international stage comes with a lot of responsibilities. The main responsibility being that of agency, which raises the question of authorization to speak, act, and engage with the multitude of issues that may have risen out from the convergence of different voices that claim to produce knowledge in a complex environment. Simply said, I find myself dealing with the question of how do I respond, speak, or engage with others on an international stage? I have always spoken as a Papua New Guinean and will defend that position for as long as I am alive and breathing.
I have to do more than what I have done so far for my country. I am a writer scholar, a position embedded in solid academic work and literary production. In the words of John Ruskin – 1819-1900, art critic and philanthropist: “The “highest reward for man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.”
I have prepared leaders, diplomats, public servants, lecturers, journalists, lawyers, policemen, and community workers. I have given all I have to keep the canoe afloat. There is no room for sloppy academic work or cut-and-paste type of work as witnessed time and time again in various pockets of academic space.
I have better days. Many rich developed countries have the money to pay for scholars to teach in their countries, but to do so, one has to be marketable at the international level. There is an exchange of intellectual capital for monetary rewards. Those who choose this pathway do so only because they know their real market value at the international market place.
A lot of Papua New Guineans are out there engaged in this international labour movement and intellectual capital exchange. It is a global environment. PNGians living and working in Australia, UK, Japan, USA, or New Zealand are contributing to the place where they work in rather than to PNG.
Is it possible for PNG universities to produce a surplus of intellectual capital that can be marketed elsewhere? Many of the marketable careers are in the sciences, technology related fields, and engineering fields. What about the social sciences, law, medicine, education, and even business studies? Papua New Guineans can participate equally on the international market.
I am happy contributing to the intellectual and social capital of Papua New Guinea through my life and work. Sharing knowledge with hundreds of my countrymen and women, either directly in the education of young people or indirectly through advocacy forums, media platforms, and outreach engagements with communities is a small contribution to nation building.
By STEVEN WINDUO