By PISAI GUMAR
A journey to shed some light for hope and peace of mind to those who dwell in deep forests, plateaus, valleys, swamps, rivers and coastlines in the border regions of Morobe and Madang started at Teptep, interior Raicoast, on Jan 6.
The theme of this move is ‘Sharing and caring through perseverance in God’s wisdom for our destiny. It aims to give a new lease of life to these “back page people” through the Inter-Provincial Border Development Sharing Programme (IPBDSP).
These are isolated parts of the country and it is an engineering nightmare to ever think of building even a pilot track due to the impassable mountainous terrains.
Inaccessibility of road networks, airstrips abandoned and overgrown with grass and shrubs, lack of shipping services, no banking and postal services, rundown aid posts, shabby school facilities with little communication with the outside world are among the realities of life.
Rickety makeshift bridges over gorges and fast flowing streams are common for those who walk days along bush treks infested with leeches, snakes and mosquitoes to get to the nearest road links or LLG stations in search of services.
Coastline communities in Morobe were totally disillusioned after the Lutheran Church’s business arm, Kambang Holdings Ltd was liquidated and its Lutheran Shipping company “ran aground”.
People resorted to using motorised dinghies. But this lured sea pirates to pursue innocents travelling from their homes to Lae or other centres.
The livelihood challenges have burdened them physically, mentally and socially. They have to stretcher pregnant women facing complications, those suffering from severe illness or injury, without apt family planning, rundown health facilities without staff and no proper water, sanitation and lighting.
Education issues range from child mistreatment, abuse and labour, children not attending classes because teachers fear to trek rugged terrains, no teaching materials, to classrooms built of bush materials but are in shambles.
Drug and homebrew consumption has almost overwhelmed the village peace officers, clans clash over land, women and delayed compensation, murder, rape, sorcery practices and killings, sea piracy and incest are among the list of vices that these isolated communities have to grapple with, mostly without the outside world knowing most of it.
Morobe Governor Ginson Saonu is determined to improve the lives of these border people.
Church work comes to the fore
Regardless of the adverse conditions the “back page people” have grounded themselves on God’s immeasurable love, taking shelter his amazing grace to survive through the years. Pastors from various church denominations have been commended for their perseverance and consistency in evangelism work to instill faith among the people despite their struggles in isolation.
In a way, the current political and church boundaries overlapping each other are confusing the pre-existing local social, cultural and linguistic linkages. People do not know where to seek government services as a result and provincial governments have generally forgotten these people or expected one another to take the responsibility.
The people have held firmly to their local cultural norms as their fort for survival over decades.
Morobe’s Kabwum district shares borders with Madang’s Raicoast district, Tewae-Siassi with West New Britain’s Kandrian-Gloucester district, Huon Gulf with Sohe in Northern), Bulolo with Goilala inCentral), Menyamya with Kaintiba in Gulf and Obura-Wonenara in Eastern Highlands) and Markham with Obura-Wonenara in EHPand Raicoast in Madang.
Saonu describes these back page people as lost sheep without a shepherd when he landed at Teptep on Jan 6 with the representatives from the Madang provincial administration.
“These are the lost sheep without a shepherd, physically and socially they’re battered by cross-cutting social issues in the wilderness within their own local habitation,” Saonu said.
His border area development initiative is part of the Triple-One policy on healthy villages, education reform in early childhood and zero dropouts in his aspirations in “Kisim bek Morobe” (Rescue Morobe).
Embracing all border areas
Provincial administrator Bart Ipambonj, Tewae-Siassi MP Kobby Bomario, provincial education reform coordinator Haring Qoreka and Zilu Scientific Ltd managing director Jason Peter accompanied Saonu to launch programme in Teptep.
Madang Governor Peter Yama was represented by deputy provincial administrator (technical services) Marcus Kachau, Edmund Ombeba (director District and LLG Services), Gane Agodop (director Primary Industry) and Raicoast MP Peter Sapia.
It aims to mobilise people in sports and a cultural festival to pave way to identify socio-economic potentials, the challenges and needs by developing suitable programmes, training and activities to enhance their capabilities.
In a nutshell, it is aimed at giving a new lease of life to LLG administrations, improve rundowzn facilities and assign required officers to take their posts to implement government aspirations and visions.
At Teptep station, a permanent LLG council chamber built by former Raicoast MP, the late Stahl Musa in 1998, was never opened and used. As such, no LLG officers were on ground leaving people without direction and guidance and not knowing what to do, where and how to seek government assistance.
The presence of the Morobe and Madang government officials brought a sense of relief. The spirit of unity is expected to give a new lease of life and the people shouted in euphoria.
Despite their physically and socially suffering in isolation there is abundance in a variety of fresh produce and cash crops the people have cultivated mainly for consumption as there is no way of sharing their abundance with earth’s bounty with the outside world. Produce was left to rot in the gardens or became feed for pigs, rats and bandicoots.
The biggest need is a road
A road link is the biggest need to link Malalamai and Ronzi along the Saidor coastline, Raicoast or through Wantoat in Markham and Upper Erap in Nawaeb to connect Lae city.
The road access will lessen the people’s burdens and allow participation in the economy, politics and church activities to fruitfully realise change in their wellbeing.
Not every ordinary villager can afford the K410 plane fare and K5 per kilogram freight charge for coffee bags and fresh foods to supply urban markets. There is not even a local market for farmers to sell their produce and meet the airfreight costs or the fare to travel to Lae.
To relieve the struggles, Saonu and Yama agreed to initiate inter-provincial development programme during the Mamose Governors Conference in Madang in 2018, to seriously intervene to address the plight of border people.
It resulted in Saonu, Ipambonj, Kachau, Bomario and Sapia beginning their journey to shepherd the border region by launching the programme through sports and a cultural festival at Teptep on Jan 6.
A sport intervention
The event attracted 32 men’s soccer teams, 32 women’s basketball teams and 27 mixed volleyball teams, and 20 traditional singsing groups.
Zilu Scientific Ltd supported the event with sporting gear and funds for Nayudos FC vying for entry into the National Soccer League (NSL) challenge in 2020. The company is optimistic to continue its support to other five border regions through the IPBDSP concept.
A satisfied Sapia thanked Saonu and Yama for the intervention to lessen the plight of interior Raicoast people endured for time immemorial. Sapia and Bomario vowed to work together with Kandrian-Gloucester MP Joseph Lelang to initiate a similar ‘triangular’ concept at district level to link communities sharing the Tewae-Siassi, Raicoast and Kandrian-Gloucester border.
Sapia allocated K250,000 to revamp all Raicoast airstrips, subsidise freight for coffee bags and medivac air freight, K20,000 for the festival and gave K5,000 cash to organising committees. He also vowed to complete the unfinished road from Saidor coastline to link Teptep this year with the help of a logging company.
Not to be outdone, Saonu pledged K100,000 for people to use local labour to build the road from Teptep to Saidor including K50,000 to revive the Nayudos LLG administration.
Lae Tourism Bureau coordinator Maine Winnie was engaged to document Nayudos cultural activities to enable him to identify potential tourism products and develop programs where possible to link them to outside opportunities.
Winnie was immersed into the untapped Nayudos cultural richness in their languages, traditional regalia, folklore, drama and architecture.
LTB, and initiative of Lae MP John Rosso is vigorously reaching out to work in collaboration with provincial government, Huon Gulf and other districts to promote untapped tourism potential in Morobe.
PNG Sports Foundation (PNGSF) Northern region officials, Aaron Mugaliong, coaching instructor Bob Morris and soccer referees coordinator Bob Memelong were engaged to conduct sports administration and management training.
They began with Nayudos last March and Tewae-Siassi and Kandrian-Gloucester at Yangla village, Siassi Island in July.
The five days training included two days each for sports administration and community coaching and refereeing respectively.
The final day of the festival allowed the trained administrators, coaches and referees to demonstrate how to coordinate major events by executing what they had learnt.
The Morobe Sam Sewe (provincial cabinet) had appointed Danny Samandingke as coordinator of the IPBDSP and bellwether (the leading sheep of a flock).
The provincial and districts administrations will soon sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to give direction in implementing the policy in partnership.