Maria sets up a cosy nook

Weekender

The traditional role of the Papua New Guinean woman has been redefined in the last 30 years; their contemporary roles have been revolutionised to the point where more women are challenging the status quo.
A woman’s success is no longer measured according to her ability to raise a family but broadened to include innovatively using their faculties to transcend to a level that surpasses societal norms in PNG.
Maria Menyweather is one such inspiring woman.
Hailing from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Maria is the proud owner of Maria’s Place, a small but exquisite bed and breakfast establishment situated along the pristine waters of the Buka Passage.
A free spirited yet strong-willed woman, the journey to her success has been one fraught with challenges that sought to question her ability as a businesswoman, her commitment to family and culture and the belief in herself to succeed.
“I’m a homemaker through and through; I enjoy making sure my little place is in order and I love to see the satisfaction on my guests’ faces when they stay with me at my place,” Maria says.
“I have always believed that the secret to success is love. If you love doing something, it will express itself in the passion and will that you have to succeed while you enjoy doing it,” she said.
Maria says that there is no point in making a lot of money while you are miserable, you have to have the passion for what you want to achieve to ensure there is fulfilment in your life.
“Have in mind that you can be content with what you have but sometimes contentment can be a ruse to restricting you from achieving your goals and realising your true potential,” she added.
When Maria first ventured out in 2000, PNG was just entering the new millennia and Bougainville was drawing the curtains on a 10-year civil conflict that saw the once proud province reduced to basic humanity.
“It was a very definitive period in our history when I decided to start my own freezer goods, wholesale and retailing business in 2001. Apart from being a means to generating an income for myself, this was also my contribution to rebuilding the economy in Bougainville,” Maria says.
The first challenge Maria encountered was the actual idea of setting up a business in a post-conflict environment with the notion that the situation on Bougainville was still very volatile; the people were traumatised by the horrors of the war and she embarking on a business venture on her own without support.
As in any post-conflict environment the return of basic infrastructure and services to the capital, Buka town moved frustratingly at a snail’s pace.
Bougainville businesses at that time relied heavily on two main things, the shipping services and the electricity supply.
But these were in a deplorable state due to lack of demand for merchandise being moved and the provincial government still providing power at an inconsistent rate.
“As a female entrepreneur I also had to contend with building a stable business that required having access to funds to start up, creating demand amongst my consumer base and more importantly having faith in myself that I could overcome these challenges and succeed,” she said.
The signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001 which formally ceased all hostilities between PNG and Bougainville brought about an era of tranquillity and a renaissance in Bougainville’s economy.
This period provided an opportune time for Maria to capitalise on the sudden need for goods and services to Bougainville, a feat which she vigorously pursued.
With minimal knowledge in business management Maria possessed a business acumen that rivalled her peers as DJL became a recognisable brand known for its quality service that was far reaching in its efforts to cater for the average Bougainvillean as well as those with a whim for goods unattainable from the shops within Buka Town.
“Two main factors steered the success of my early days; my drive to succeed and the mutual understanding between business houses on the importance of diversifying the market. No two businesses were involved in the same venture, there was respect amongst the early Buka town business community,” she says.
But Maria’s success as an independent businesswoman would be endangered to be prematurely ended.
In 2004 she suffered the loss of her only son, Doug, when he suddenly passed away.
“Doug was only 24 when we lost him. The pain of losing a child is something no mother should ever go through; it is an unbearable feeling that cannot be fathomed and it will shake the very foundations of your belief in God and even more so in yourself,” she says.
While Maria mourned the loss of her son there was another family problem brewing that resulted in the closure of DJL Trading, her freezer company.
These events forced Maria to go into a brief hiatus in 2009 as she entered a time of reflection to re-evaluate her options.
“My drive has always been my family; my two daughters and my two grandsons. I still mourn the loss of my son and I miss him terribly everyday but I am of the faith that he would want me to be strong and continue to live my life for my two remaining children and my bubus.
“I was also not going to be deterred by the feud that had developed between my family and I but I knew I had to bide my time until I knew I was ready to come back,” she adds.
With a revitalised sense of purpose in 2012, Maria set out to create Maria’s Place, her own little haven that reflects her charm and enduring spirit and has a rustic outdoorsy look yet with elegance and charm.
Growing from strength to strength, Maria’s Place has prospered owing solely to Maria’s ability to recognise her strengths and innovatively evolve with the changing times.
Her love and passion for creating a tranquil, homely setting has seen the transformation of her once, private haven into a money-making unit that is quickly gaining interest and high acclaim for its niche approach to accommodation with an authentic touch.
Maria’s Place offers some of the best hospitality services in Buka with its breathtaking view and impressive culinary take on both local and international cuisine for its guests who want a home away from home experience when they visit Bougainville.
Despite her success Maria has always remained firmly grounded in her outlook on life.
Apart from her busy schedule she is a staunch advocate of women’s issues on Bougainville and a notable member of the Rotary Club in Bougainville as well as various charitable drives.
Maria has long been associated with the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre that caters to women facing abuse and operates as a sanctuary for troubled people seeking counselling.
“I am one of the few women fortunate enough to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from being independent thinkers.
“To the women who aspire to be more than that they are, nothing is impossible. Never see any hardship as a problem, when you see it that way it creates a defeatist mentality,” she says.
“Always maintain an optimistic mindset; when you see the hardships as challenges, opportunities will present themselves for you to overcome.”

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