By PATRICK MARCO
IT was on a typical bright Friday morning in February when a group of men, fully dressed in their traditional Huli attire walked into the training area belonging to the 3 Ways Women’s Group near the 3 ways junction, the road that leads to Hides and Komo from Nogoli in Hela.
“It was Friday so I thought maybe an important occasion was happening, maybe an intending candidate for the upcoming 2017 general election was about to be welcomed into the community,” recalls Shirley Tombenna, a Community Livelihood Improvement Program (CLIP) officer working with the Australian National University Enterprise (ANUE), with support from PNG LNG operator ExxonMobil PNG.
Last November, next to the 3 Ways junction, a large piece of land was marked into flat beds and a new farming technique was introduced by Shirley and her CLIP team, with varieties of crops planted ranging from sweet potatoes, corn, peanut, soybean, pumpkin, cassava, choko, carrot, beans to other local vegetables.
When Shirley and her team returned in February this year to deliver the next phase of training on nutrition, they were delighted to see the vegetables had thrived under the management of the women’s group and were ready for harvesting.
So on that Friday, to the surprise of the CLIP team and the 3 Ways women, the men in traditional bilas kept on walking towards the small area where they were preparing food for the training.
In fact, they were the husbands of the women in the group and the rest were young men in the community who had also dressed up in Huli attire to show their appreciation and thanks to the CLIP team for what they were doing to positively transform their families and communities.
“I was filled with tears and was speechless for a while,” says the group leader, Mary Wapu, who reiterated that the men had never ever done such a thing and this was a game changer.
“We couldn’t do anything else to show our appreciation so we decided to dress up this way, without informing our partners, to show them and ExxonMobil PNG that we, men, want to work side by side with our women to support the CLIP program,” said Aipe Ako, a community leader in the greater Hides area.
In Huli, men dress up in their traditional dress only during special occasions.
Huli men attain the right to dress up in traditional attire only after going through men’s initiation rituals where they camp out for some time in seclusion and go through inconspicuous rites well away from the public eye.
Owen Hughes, CLIP’s Project Manager said of all the training they have done in PNG LNG project areas, this was truly a first and is a very special way of opening their training program for 2017.
“The men were with us all throughout the training session and took part in the activities with the women which is a shift in paradigm,” said Hughes.
The normal cooking demonstration was turned into a feast on that day with the first harvest of food and vegetables from the nutrition garden and demonstration plots. Women brought in chicken to be cooked with their garden produce.
“It was a proud day to remember and I will always cherish this forever because I felt that we had reached a milestone, and that is changing the mindsets of Huli men,” says Shirley.
CLIP started in August 2015 and is a partnership between ExxonMobil PNG and the ANU Enterprise (ANUE), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Australian National University. Members of the CLIP team have been working with local communities to promote the importance of planting a variety of crops to produce surplus as part of their food security planning.
Women, men and youths involved in this project have also been taught on how to use crops they plant such as cassava, sweet potato and banana to bake cakes. Setting up simple poultry and duck farming facilities in their local community is another small enterprise which participants are involved in to earn income for their families.
The 3 Ways community group is the latest of 19 groups to participate in CLIP within PNG LNG project areas in the provinces of Hela and Southern Highlands. It consists of 86 members and is, by far, the largest group in Hides.
- Patrick Marco is Media and Communications Advisor, Public and Government Affairs.