THADDEUS TIRIMAN recounts a patriotic march with a message.
AT 4:45am on Independence Day a group of people where seen marching along the Waigani Drive in Port Moresby, chanting war cries and singing gospel songs as they made their way towards Independence Hill for the official flag raising ceremony.
They had started out at the Bible Translation Association (BTA) at North Waigani in what was known as the “Independence walk of hope”.
The chant of “change starts with me” was echoed in the silence of dawn as this group consisting mainly of graduates from various tertiary institutions in the country walked to commemorate Papua New Guinea’s 34 Independence Anniversary.
The walk was a patriotic march with a message.
After 34 years and with all the challenges PNG had been through, the theme of the walk was “change” and that change “cannot start anywhere but with the individual”.
About 250m into the walk up the Waigani Drive towards the Port Moresby country club the group was met with a grim reminder of PNG’s problems: A car coiled around one of the streetlights in a nasty accident that apparently would not have left anyone alive.
This was the fourth walk since Independence Day 2006 but PNG had not changed much with the same old problems happening again and again and nothing seems to be improving.
The message of the walk was reassuring.
“In the walk we remind ourselves that there is always a hope for Papua New Guinea to change, to be free from corruption and all its problems,” Jacqueline Waffi, one of the initiators of the walk said.
Three years ago, Mrs Waffi and about 20 Christian graduates, under a group called the Graduates Christian Fellowship, decided to walk early in the morning of Sept 16, 2006, from BTA to Independence Hill and attend the official flag raising ceremony for PNG’s 31 Independence Anniversary. The group consists of graduates from different denominational and ethnical backgrounds who have a vision to make PNG a better place not only for Papua New Guineans but also for everyone who comes to PNG.
The walk was one of the programmes they initiated to encourage pride and love for the nation and to always hope for a better PNG.
In their most fabulous red, black and gold PNG colours the graduates, both male and female, and a handful of elderly people, began the march, shouting well-formulated war cries against corruption, crime, regionalism and other social ills affecting the contemporary PNG society.
Every year the number of participants has grown with the recent one this year having more than 60 people walking including children as young as seven-years-old.
Though the walk is short and is only within the Waigani area it holds a lot of significance to its founders and for those who walk every Independence morning since 2006.
Mrs Waffi, a lawyer with the Independent Consumer and Competition Commission (ICCC) says: “If you have a heart enough to see this nation change you better start change where you are; yourself, your family, your relationships, before you can change the nation. The walk is just a reminder of that.”
Walo Wayne, another UPNG graduate now with the PNGHRI, was the war cry leader and to him the walk was a sign of unity and solidarity.
According to Wayne true unity is about being able to accept each other and work together in the development of the nation.
“Walking together is like working together. The thing I like about the walk is nobody is saying ‘I am a Tolai or you are a Highlander’, but we are all Papua New Guineans.
“I believe if we learn to accept each other and put aside our differences and work together we can see real developments.”
Another graduate said the walk was a time for him to reflect on his belief that change starts with the individual.
“We believe that the nation can change but it takes change to start from within a person. A person has to change first for a society to follow.”
The walk is also a time for offering prayers to God for divine guidance upon the nation knowing the future is uncertain. There were intervals through out the walk when somebody in the group would read out loud a scripture about God’s promise to a nation that abides under His purpose and righteousness.
“The hope that we have is not in ourselves but is in God and how we want to allow God to use us wherever we are,” Mrs Waffi added.
The walk is going to continue and next year promises a bigger event with not just the walk but a sunrise get-together of every participants over a barbaque and sports, with the purpose of encouraging national unity and sharing ideas.
“We want to make Independence more meaningful to every person and the invitation is extended to all folks living in the city to join us,” Mrs Waffi said.