By HELEN TARAWA
THEY have a special sign language by which they recognise Anna Kavana Bais; it is the flower she wears in her hair.
When her name is mentioned, their faces brighten up with smiles from ear to ear. That is the impact Bais has had on people living with disabilities.
She was the first departmental head that put in place policies to recognise the disabled people who now have a voice and can be heard.
She broke down as she told the story of how she had touched those many lives who are now represented in public places.
“The sign language interpreters have a sign language for me, it’s a flower. For me is it brings a lot of happiness. I’m just happy…but I feel that there’s still a lot that needs to be done,” she said.
One of the many examples is the sign language that had been introduced to the National Broadcasting Corporation Television programme, the only TV station to use sign language throughout the country.
And following that, most events and activities in the National Capital District have a sign language interpreter.
This is among the many changes that Bais put in place, not just for the disabled but for women, youth, children and even men.
She has now decided to call it quits from the public service and take on another calling in her life.
“I thought about it, I prayed about it and this is by far the most selfish decision in my life trying to give up this job to be a politician to try my hand. It means I will make it or I won’t make it so that’s the sacrifice that I’m making.
“I’ve been in a department that deals with small people. In my time, I brought this department from where many people didn’t know much about it. They saw it as a welfare and civil registry department, and I’ve brought it to a level where the country knows that it deals with women, children, youth, disability and elderly and so forth.
“We’ve done so many policies, laws and strategies apart from family protection and empowerment.
“I’ve seen the challenge of why we are not succeeding in many things because we are not putting people at the centre of development,” she said.
Bais gave an example of infrastructure that are built without taking into account the people living with disabilities.
“When people are building an infrastructure, they are not putting a person with disabilities face in there. When they are shaping an environment they are not putting people at the centre.
“When you put people at the centre you start planning and doing work around the requirements of people, children, youth, informal sector and churches,” she said.
Into unknown territory
Bais said being in the department for 27 years she had learnt a lot. Eight of those years were as departmental head while the rest were working with sections including disability, literacy and many others.
“I’ve been thrown around in various sections, they put me there for whatever reason, I was just a hard worker.
“They have put me in places where I had no knowledge of. I did university studies in business but they put me with disability, a section I had no knowledge of but it grew me. I always wanted to delivery. They put me in literacy, but it helped shape me as a person.
“My putting my hands up is because I have great institutional knowledge and I now want to take it to the floor of Parliament where I feel that the voice is still lacking for this marginalised group of people and families that I have represented.
“Not only the voice is missing but the support with resources to properly implement these policies is a major concern for me.
“I need to be at the top among all these men, to continue to echo the rights basic human rights of many of our families and communities.
“For me to forego the secretary’s job is a big sacrifice, for my family because I worked my way up to the top and me wanting to be a politician people are voting me in so the demand on our people is a lot more,” she said.
Bais said the challenges are even more tougher but she’s ready for it.
“I’ve been a secretary with the good, bad and ugly, but what doesn’t kill you; it makes you stronger.
“I need to go to the next level with the skills and experience that I have had to represent our people.
“I’d like to make North West a model electorate for the many policies that we have developed for national government but with my experience I could try this out in an electorate ad make it a model electorate in the country.
“It’s come as a surprise, it’s a heart break for many of my staff who are sentimental and want to cry about it but I’m telling them to be excited for me because I’m excited about this next chapter of my life’s journey.
“I have a choice of either living a quiet life and doing a business and just focusing on that where no one will attack me, bash me or praise me but I’ve decided otherwise.
“God has a calling on each one of our lives, we have a purpose and when we know that purpose nothing will stop us.
“I’ve got that energy and drive to go into the next chapter of my life. I go away with all this library over the 27 years that I have collected, the experience and the skills and I cannot simply walk away and not put into use all of that.
“I believe I will be one of the greatest voices of our families and communities in the parliament,” she said.
Bais said one thing that she had made a difference in while working at the Department of Youth, Religion and Community Development was their work with persons with disability.
“For me it’s the disability journey. I’m an advocator for women, children, youth, disability, elderly and families but in all these groupings, the most vulnerable are the persons with disabilities.
“To see that they have a policy, remove barriers, make rights real, it makes me happy.
“l feels that there’s a lot more to be done. While we have the policy, accessibility in terms of wheel chair, one of the achievements that makes me happy is the sign language interpretation.
“Just seeing the sign language interpreter next to the TV presenter on NBC TV puts a smile on my face.
“I was there when it was launched, I was right in the studio on the first day, that was national disability day four or five years ago and I watched the launch and I had tears.
“People don’t understand that our deaf people want to know everything that’s happening, but they are not able to but with the sign language they understand and they all clap. For the first time they understood the news.
“It’ brings me so much joy when people like Isabella Kila graduated as a lawyer, there’s many more that are not intellectually disabled, they think like every other child.
“If we can make this environment conducive for them, if we reach them, we will change PNG.
“For me it’s our people with disability, our children with disability whilst we got the policy implementation, getting the mainstreaming, integration of all other agencies taking on their responsibility including disability in all their planning.
“If we can start from there and change their lives, we cannot just say leave no one behind, we must understand who we are referring to.
“For me it’s the journey of the disabilities because they are the most vulnerable groups in the society,” she said.
“The PWD journey went from a charity model where we feel sorry for them (they don’t like that) to a health model (where we see PWDs as a health department problem) to a social model (where PWDs recognise that they are not the problem, its us the planners and able-bodied people who are the problem. We shaped the environment to suit only able bodied persons).
“Finally comes the right-based model (where PWDs are fighting for their rights to services as citizens of this country).
She said they now have a policy and a bill, a first, which she hopes will be introduced in the April session of Parliament.
Bais says another area that is of concern is the informal sector.
She says most families in NCD are engaged in the informal sector.
“We have done the informal sector policy and a study.
“The informal sector alone can contribute about K12 billion annually but no one is taking that seriously.
“The informal economy feeds more families in PNG than the formal economy. That should call for something.
“We should harness and nourish this economy. All they need is protection and empowerment.
“Most of our public servants are engaged in the informal economy in their homes because their pay is insufficent to provide for them.
“It used to be a women’s business but when men saw how women were making business there are now a lot more men in the informal economy. The trend is very important.
“When I see the informal economy special attention can be given to them because they have money. They have money to contribute to the purse of this government or this country.
“Papua New Guineans are strong and resilient people. What happened in the Covid-19 lockdown was a clear example. The informal sector and the persons with disability were two of the vulnerable groupings that were badly affected during the lockdown.
“From women, children, youth, elderly, churches, disability and informal sector, no one must be left behind,” she said.
“I know without a doubt if there is a person to represent the families, youths, communities well, its’ me, especially PWDs and informal sector.
“I’m more interestedin us addressing the issues from the root causes. The polices that we have in the department are more focused on prevention.
“I want North West to be an electorate of men against violence, a role model electorate.
“We must protect children and secure the nation. I’ve seen the struggle in service delivery components so we came up with the District Community Development Centre.
“I’m going to utilise it in North West. There are many ways to improve a community.
“With my 27 years as a practitioner in terms of laws, policies and strategies in the public sector, implementing it in an electorate is really the test of my leadership as a bureaucrat and now trialing it out in the community.”
The main reasons why I am taking on the challenge (even though politics is ugly in PNG) are: To be the voice for the marginalised, vulnerable groups, families and communities in parliament; to ensure budgets are prioritised for laws, policies and strategies for these sectors of society; and to implement these important government policies at the ground level.
In this case I would like to make MNW a model electorate
1. First National Child Protection Policy –
2. National Disability Policy
3. Women and Gender Equality Policy
4. Informal Economy Policy
5. Policy on Integrated Community Development and the district community development centre as the vehicle of delivery
6. Creation of Religion, Informal Economy and Elderly sections within the department.
7. The National Database for Churches and NGO to better coordinate services to our people
8. Annual public servants dedication service.