STEPHEN DAWANINCURA catches up with an Aussie volunteer working for children’s rights in Goroka
SHE has snorkelled the islands of Madang and scaled Papua New Guinea’s highest peak, Mount Wilhelm, and for close to a year West Australian Hannah Jensen has called Goroka home.
Through the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development Program, Perth-raised Hannah is constantly captivated by her PNG experience since taking up voluntary duty as a child protection officer within the Eastern Highlands provincial government’s justice system.
“My breath is constantly taken away when I sit on my verandah and watch the neighbour’s kids playing on the lawn, with the mountains in the background bathed in the golden Goroka sunlight. This is my favourite way to relax after work and is probably the thing I will miss most when I leave,” reveals Hannah.
With a love for travel and a desire to experience different cultures, Hannah put aside her studies and decided to broaden her horizons.
At the age of 20, she volunteered to go to the South American nation of Guyana and hasn’t looked back since.
Prior to coming to Papua New Guinea, Hannah worked as a clinical psychologist in the Kimberly region of Western Australia.
That experience unintentionally laid the foundation that would lead to her placement in PNG as it involved working in remote indigenous communities.
“I have always been passionate about child rights and I believe that working at a government level in developing countries is really important. That said, I did like the idea of going to PNG, it seemed challenging and exciting,” she says.
Driven by a passion to keep doing things that constantly challenged her, Hannah knew she had her work cut out for her when she touched down in Goroka.
“When I first arrived there was no child protection framework – no system to work in. This, combined with other differences, like the concept of ‘PNG time’, and not knowing how any of the systems work, made for a difficult first few months.”
Now three quarters through her 12-month stint in the Eastern Highlands, Hannah has found that her personal motivation has come with its rewards. She proudly boasts that having settled into the ëNokondi’ way of life, she can speak Pidgin, cook kaukau, uses coconut milk in every meal, and has made in-roads in her place of work.
“I think my biggest work highlight has been gaining funding to employ a child protection officer within the provincial government. This has meant that I have a wonderful counterpart to work with and I am happy to know that the work that I am doing will carry on once I finish.
“I feel really lucky to be in my position. I have really interesting and challenging work, I have an amazing support network of friends, a great house with lovely neighbours and the opportunity to experience village life on a regular basis.”
With the ability to view the child welfare scene in Papua New Guinea from the broader perspective of an AYAD volunteer, Hannah knows that her work has only touched the tip of the iceberg.
“I would like to see more importance placed on the social services by the national and provincial governments. ëCross cutting issues’ are relatively new concepts in PNG and, as such, are poorly supported,” she says.
Hannah also has the satisfaction of being the person who has gotten the child welfare ball rolling in the Eastern Highlands with the hope that her time spent here has made a difference.
“Work-wise, I think that there are definitely some things that will remain growing. I have made some wonderful friends, and if I have a fraction of the impact on their lives that they have had on mine, that would be great.”
* Stephen Dawanincura is a public affairs officer with AusAID in Port Moresby.