By KEVIN E DAYONGA
IMPACTS of Covid-19 were felt by people from all walks of life. From the far end coastal shores of the Rossell Island in the Milne Bay to the Aua Islands of Manus, the borders of Western and West Sepik and hinterlands, the ripple effect somewhat caused a chain reaction and that continues to affect livelihoods of ordinary Papua New Guineans.
While its trail of impacts left footprints all over the place with some seriously affected by losing a loved one, others felt a pint and continues to do so. People are learning each day, and such is the case for Samberigi Polopa Women’s Voice, an association established in 2006 by the women of Samberigi. They nominated Koya Sukiapu Aibe as chairlady and Rachel Nake Sisimolu as treasurer to lead the association. Both are determined women leaders who are currently championing and empowering their people in the Samberigi area of the Kagua-Erave district of Southern Highlands. The association that looks after 10 council wards in Samberigi. Aibe is grateful that none of her community members fell ill to Covid-19 but the restrictions and companies laying off workers affected vegetables farmers in her Samberigi area who supply vegetables through the association’s established vegetable market with PNG Mining and Petroleum Hospitality catering services. That is their main source of income.‘’We used to supply tonnes of fresh produce to the Oil Search camp in Gobe. But due to the company laying off its workers and Covid restrictions, we have been forced to reduce the volume of supplies to 500kg or less per delivery. This has significantly affected the lives of our farmers in the 10 council wards.’’ Samberigi is very remote and lies between Kikori in Gulf and Southern Highlands provinces. The only access to this part of Kagua-Erave district is a road. The imposing of restrictions added a lot of fear and anxiety to communities spread across Samberigi who were not able to access banking services in Moro, Mt Hagen or trade with their neighbours in Kikori.‘’We can’t go to Moro although there is a bank there,” says Aibe. “We have a lot of food and there is surplus supply but what can we do? Our people are never hungry. The major problem is accessing market opportunities to sell our produce. I am still looking around for market opportunities for my farmers. We only have one and are grateful to PNG Mining and Petroleum Hospitality Services for giving us the opportunity to provide fresh produce to them, but I would really like to see few more businesses open doors to us.’’ While people living in Moresby and other centres have access to information and awareness, for communities in Samberigi, access to information is an issue and, with so much happening around the country, Koya adds that, the majority of her people tend to believe anything that is said and heard. ‘’The problem right now in Samberigi is awareness. We have heard about Covid through word of mouth. There is no access to radio, or any other awareness carried out by our authorities. There is no mobile phone coverage so whatever information people hear, they believe it whether it is true or not. Despite all that is happening around us we are still making gardens and trying to make ends meet for our families.’’ Aibe believes that this association is a blessing and has done so much to help its people during times like this. She applauded the work of Advancing PNG: Women’s Leaders Network for playing a major role in developing and providing pathways for communities in Samberigi through Samberigi Polopa Women’s Association. Since its inception in 2006, six to seven years were spent on skills and livelihood training for its women. In 2014, the association changed its course and went into agriculture through ExxonMobil PNG Ltd funding support managed by CDI Foundation, then Oil Search Community Affairs provided much needed support with training through Fresh Produce Development Authority and Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC). Things changed a lot for these 10 wards. “Livelihoods and skills development training was and is always top on the agenda and through this initiative, we have opened a market with Oil Search and have been supplying them fresh produce since then. We do that every week. “CIC has also played an integral part in our development. Our people are well-versed with coffee farming now after having gone through different training opportunities with them. We wanted to make a difference, so instead of relying on people to help us, we started to help ourselves first. We set up an association for women in Samberigi having in mind that this would be seen as a platform to partner with other organisations and in fact from 2006 till now, a lot has happened.’’ The association was initially set up for women and girls and was specifically for community empowerment through the women. But that has changed overtime.“We have men and boys taking part in different programmes and supporting their women folks. The whole community has taken responsibility for this association. This is one of the programmes in Samberigi apart from the church-run programmes that our people actively take part in. They see this association as the only source of income and development in their in lives’’. “Their lifestyles have changed a lot. I have been seeing a lot of young people taking ownership and going back to ploughing their l and. It is encouraging to see youth going into coffee farming or poultry, among others. This has brought a lot of economic benefits for them,” Aibe says. According to their records from 2014 to 2018 over 100 tonnes of fresh produce have been sold to catering companies operating in the mining sites of Southern Highlands. Over K250,000 was made and distributed equally to the 18 villages. Expenses of over K300,000 was spent on logistics and labour cost. This was also invested into their own people. Koya has big dreams for her people and with the association; she will keep knocking on doors for few more markets. “I know there are restrictions put in place and we will have to follow the Niupla Pasin protocols, but we need to work. Our people need to eat. We are recovering and as an association, we are strategising and hoping that this issue presented to us is an opportunity to branch out and look at other possible ways to continue improving our lives.’’ The only issue Covid brought to the people of Samberigi as the president explained is the reduced volume of vegetable supplied the developer. Other than that, access to market and transport has always been a problem. ‘’Our major underlying problem that has always hindered our work is transportation and access to market opportunities. Transportation costs K800 per hire and that is too much for our farmers. Our association benefits little from the work we do. “All the money earned from this operation goes back to the communities. And since 2006 more than K600,000 has gone back to their pockets. When sharing her story, president of the Advancing PNG: Women Leaders Network, Ruth Kissam commended the resilience Koya and her organisation and the many countless women, men and youth out there in the rural areas continue to endure and provide development solutions to their communities. “Organisations such as the Samberigi Polopa Women’s Voice keep rural economies going where income earning opportunities for the real masses are very slim or don’t exist at all . And I’d like call to the Government of James Marape to make provisions that will include business agencies such as SPWV in the current SME packages as the current SME initiative seems to be benefiting Port Moresby business only. Port Moresby is not Papua New Guinea,“ Kissam says. For Koya Sukiapu Aibe, Rachel Nake Sisimolu and other community leaders of Samberigi, they saw that all the training and skills development programmes their people have gone through have prepared them for situations such as this pandemic and despite their challenges, the commuities in Samberigi are resilient, innovative and adjusting to their lives under Niupla Pasin.
- Kevin Dayonga is a journalist and volunteer with the Advancing PNG: Women Leaders Network.