By HENRY YAMO
FORTY-five years on and much of Papua New Guinea still remains isolated, disconnected and far from all-is-okay.
Most rural and remote areas of many provinces around the country are not connected or underserviced and remain essentially the same or worse than before Independence.
The only evidence of any form of service provision comes from either the work of churches and non-governmental organisations that have made breakthroughs to reach the many isolated communities that often have very little connection with the outside part of their provinces or further.
This was very visible to the team comprised of workers from Madang and Port Moresby that tracked into the heartlands of Begesin in Usino-Bundi District. The team was confronted by the raw reality that people in this part of the province are by and large still not connected either by road or air to the rest of Madang.
The team was comprised of the deputy executive officer of the Consultative Implementation and Monitoring Council (CIMC) Henry Yamo and John Ezekiel, both from Port Moresby, World Vision Madang staff, Willie Manui, Vero Kaupa and Joe Mapurip, the Usino-Bundi elementary education coordinator.
The team drove from Walium station to Ono Bridge along the Begesin section of the Lae-Madang highway and travelled by four-wheel drive vehicle to Animink in Ward 21 of Somau-Garia Local Level Government (LLG). On the way uphill, people were seen carrying goods and materials, including rolled-up and bundled roofing iron from the main road to where they were going.
The team stayed in the Begesin area for four days visiting Mopo, Animink, Kunugul and Aupio elementary schools in Wards 19, 21, 25 and 23 in the Somau-Garia LLG, one of three LLGs in the Usino-Bundi electorate.
During conversation with a local, it was noted that transporting goods and construction materials on human shoulders was a daily routine for people in this LLG. Without a road to support the provision of services, people have no choice but to manually carry basic necessities from the Lae-Madang highway to any point inland.
Arriving at the end of the track the team left the vehicle at the residence of the ward councillor who promised its safe keeping until the team’s return. A small team formed by the councillor waited impatiently to help the team with what had to be carried. They volunteered to transport everything and guide the team to Animink Elementary School. The team reached it in about 20 minutes after walking downstream along a small creek.
At the school, all the stakeholders, including teachers, parents and the board of management were waiting. So the team started doing awareness focused on educating parents and stakeholders on how they in their own capacity can help to improve regular school attendance by children.
The team stayed overnight at the school and left early the next day for Kunugul Elementary School, further inland. Early departure was necessary to prevent the humidity and heat slowing down the team. Again, some youth and the chairman of the Kunugul Elementary School board who had come the night before provided escort and the team arrived in Kunugul next to the Begesin mission station at around 9.30am.
Begesin station is the only area in this part of the province where service is visible with a Lutheran Church established health centre and primary school, a rusty old church built in 1972 along with a now abandoned missionary’s house, workshop, and generator house.
According to the rusty old sign pinned to the front of the church, the mission station was cleared and established in 1947 by Dr Geharad Raitz, a German missionary.
This station is located within the seven Begesin-Giraua council wards which start from Negeri along the Madang-Lae highway and ends at the station. Altogether, there are 11 council wards in Begesin with a total population of about 30,000 people in them.
According to locals they used to be serviced by the Begesin airstrip next to the station which was carved out by missionaries at the foot of the towering Mt Urirai which is now home to a Digicel communication tower.
The strip was used by missionaries to bring in all building materials and necessary equipment then. It has since been closed for 10 years now following the departure of the missionaries from the station.
Given that there is no road to service the population of the 11 council wards, reopening the Begesin airstrip by authorities is a must to get school and medical supplies into this tucked away corner of the province.
The next day the team started out as early as 6am from Begesin station to track for three-and-half hours to Aupio Elementary School in Ward 23.
A single guide led the team on the hard early morning climb up a well-used track. At the top of the hill the team reached a pilot vehicle track that had been built by the former Member for Usino-Bundi, Anton Yagama.
The track has since been disused and heavily overgrown. The reason being that wash-outs along the track had never been fixed over the years.
With both the road and airstrip closed, accessing health and education services in the Begesin heartland is very hard to come by.
Although the Begesin sub-health centre, the primary school and the Aupio primary school are operational the story is bitter and the struggle to provide these services is daunting for teachers and health workers.
They have to traverse the tracks for hours to get to the highway and then get on a PMV into town and repeat this upon their return.
Considering that the Begesin hosts one of three LLGs in the Usino-Bundi electorate with a population of almost 30,000 people having a road is ideal for the flow of services.
Otherwise, these people and others around the country in similar geographical locations are left behind in service delivery.
Hence, it is hard to fathom how the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) catch phrase “leave no one behind” could apply here.
PNG as a member state of the UN adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launched in 2015 with the aim to transform the country by 2030.
However, if people in the Begesin are continually neglected with no road and air connectivity, then “leaving no one behind” by 2030 is still a very long shot for the electorate, province and country.
Provision of services through the use of district service improment programme (DSIP) funds must be evenly done so that people are empowered for socio-economic participation and development and not left behind.
On a rainy Thursday afternoon (Oct 22) the team left Aupio Elementary School at 3pm and tracked over mountains and across swirling streams and finally reached the councillor’s residence at Animink by 6pm.
For outsiders the urge to get out of Begesin was overwhelming. So with everything stacked into the vehicle the team bade farewell to the councillor’s family and negotiated the slippery uphill drive.
Although relieved to be heading back to civilisation as it seemed, the thought of the hardships faced in the Begesin are kept flashing back. They are real and one wonders how long that will go on for.
Do we continue to allow the upcoming generations to track in the footsteps of their fathers and forefathers or can the Government and political leaders provide a road or air service for this people so they prosper and are not left behind?
- The author is the deputy executive officer of the Consultative Implementation and Monitoring Council (CIMC) based in Port Moresby. He can be reached by email on firstname.lastname@example.org