By OLIVE SUKUN
JANAKI Maraga Simeon entered the recent Hiri Moale Festival for two reasons: to promote her mum Gillian’s Motu Koita culture, and to use the platform to counsel young people against committing suicide.
She came fourth but that does not matter. She is glad she achieved what she had set out to do.
Mum Gillian from Kirakira village, a pastor, is very culture-oriented.
“Since I was four, my mother would literally pull us out of the house and make us wear our grass skirts and join the rest of the villagers in activities that involved cultural dancing. It gives my dad pride to see me embracing my mom’s culture and he is very supportive.”
Janaki, 25, believes that the women of Motu Koita are strong because they are moulded by their culture, values and beliefs. She is the eldest in a family of three girls and two boys. Dad Alan Simeon is of mixed parentage – England and Bangladesh. He has lived and worked most of his life in PNG.
Janaki today urges young people facing trauma and problems to discuss them with a friend or a family member rather than resorting to extreme measures such as suicide.
Her interest in that area began four years ago while in Samoa where her mother was working. Janika’s friend Luke Snowden who she called Smiley because he rarely smiled for some reason took his own life.
“He doesn’t smile a lot. That’s how I gave him that name Smiley. I was sad for a very long time when he committed suicide. If I can help one person, it will give me joy because I wasn’t able to help my best friend.”
Janaki started a foundation called Smiley in memory of Luke.
She also remembers a time when she heard about a student who wanted to kill herself.
“When I heard this, I told myself that I have to do something that could help others, especially youths who go through a crisis in their lives. I didn’t realise that there are so many young people out there who are struggling to live through each day.”
In her friend Luke’s case, she didn’t know what he was going through because he didn’t speak out about it.
“Youths come to me now and I always make time to listen to their problems and troubles.”
Her message to anyone thinking about committing suicide is that there is more to life than you think.
“Your story and what you’re going through is a powerful testimony because you are not alone and you have the right to speak up and be heard. It’s okay to ask for help. Don’t hide what you’re going through. It’s not something to be ashamed of as it makes you a brave person to speak out and get help than to hide your problems and feelings and let them eat you inside.”
Her Smiley Foundation, though yet to be registered, is working with the Oil Search Foundation to build a center for young people in trouble who don’t have nowhere else to turn to. Janaki also goes out to schools to conduct awareness and counselling.
While in Samoa with her mother and siblings, Janaki chose to study theology at the Rhema Bible Training College. She graduated with a diploma in 2016.
“I was selected to study Science at a university in Samoa but I felt the need to find my true self so I ended up studying ministry. Now, I do counselling and awareness about suicide to the youths in my village because I’ve seen what they go through and I want to help them.”
The saying “a person’s most useful asset is not a head full of knowledge, but a heart full of love, an ear ready to listen and a hand willing to help others” fits beautiful Janaki perfectly.
By OLIVE SUKUN