By KEVIN DAYONGA
THE Kikori River is one of my favourite places in PNG, says Yolarnie Amepou, a young biologist who is currently heading the Piku Biodiversity Network in the western end of Gulf.
Almost 230km long, the Kikori stretches over 23,300 square kilometers, forming a magnificent delta that reaches down to the Gulf of Papua. It is remote, with dense mangrove forests lining the interweaving waterways, and small villages appearing along the river banks, says Amepou.
“The villagers live predominantly off fish and sago, banana, complemented by sweet potatoes and cassava among other vegetables. The people here live humble lives, their stilted wooden huts line the river banks and their dugout canoes paddle softly along the water. There is certainly magic in these waters, a calmness, a soothing, and it is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world,’’ adds Amepou.
Kikori is the country’s fifth largest river and home to animals and plants found nowhere else in the world. Home to numerous tribal groups, it is a snapshot of PNG’s cultural diversity. The Kikori connects them all, providing them a path of travel, a garden of food, storage of various marine and freshwater resources sustaining them, and their livelihoods into the future as it did for generations before them.
Amongst the many different wildlife species in the Kikori Delta is the pig-nosed turtle or piku. Yes, the pig-nosed turtle depicted on the country’s five toea coin, is found in the Kikori Delta.
Piku is an important source of food, income, and a cultural symbol of the river people.
The Piku Biodiversity Network was formally established as an NGO in 2017 after 30 years of research along the Kikori and 12 years of working to establish its local network, engaging with over 23 villages and the many tribes that inhabit this paradise.
In February 2019 the youth of Kikori through the Kikori Youth Development Association took on the initiative to tackle the growing problem of household garbage in and around their river environment, bringing to life an idea of one of the PBN’s initiatives, The Piku Project. The project is funded by ExxonMobil PNG. The initiative named Garbage-Free Kikori Collaboration or simply the GFKC, brought youths from different clans, villages, and tribes to work towards a common goal, and that is a cleaner, healthier, garbage-free Kikori
In partnership with the Piku Biodiversity Network (PBN), Community Development Initiative (CDI) Foundation Trust Fund, and The Voice Inc were able to develop programmes to assist the youths to carry out the garbage clearing campaign. They were taught how to conduct waste audits, build platforms to collect, sort, count and weigh this garbage.
“It is waste audit data that is needed to inform waste management plans. Kikori River, like many rural PNG communities, has no waste management plan. GFKC has taken on the challenge to rectify this by assisting their local members and local level government in the first step towards a management plan and waste audits.
“There are over 10 platforms in Kikori urban for garbage collection awaiting routine waste audits. There have been public demonstrations and awareness on the issue of garbage as the youth try to educate the wider community,” says Amepou.
“When Yolarnie first told us that we were going to do a waste audit, we didn’t think we could do it. The only other youths that did the waste audit were university students in Port Moresby. Most of our youths left (formal education) in primary school, it sounded very hard. We did the first waste audit with Yolarnie and CDI and saw it was easy, so we embarked on doing the second waste audit ourselves,” Kikori Youth Development Association chairman, Ernest Dai Dobson states proudly.
“ There are over 10 platforms in Kikori urban for garbage collection awaiting routine waste audits. There have been public demonstrations and awareness on the issue of garbage as the youth try to educate the wider community,”
“They (GFKC) are working towards achieving their ambitions and it is hoped that the campaign will be celebrated this year with a youth-led World Environment Day celebration on June 5 (today). Kikori youths are making a stance of ownership in creating the type of environment they would like to live in, believing that a change in the way the community lives must begin with action today,’’ Amepou says.
GFKC is also about youth empowerment and providing youth an opportunity to step up and step out, to showcase their potential and learn the importance of collaboration as well as demonstrate the strength of cultural diversity when it works towards a common goal. The 10 urban settlements in Kikori are currently piloting the GFKC under the leadership of Ernest Dobson.
“It’s a perfect application for PNG’s fifth national goal and directive principle; Papua New Guinean ways and a project that challenges other rural youths elsewhere in the country that if Kikori youth can stand up to make a change in their communities, so can you!”,
‘’The GFKC 2020 programme planned to include over 23 villages from seven tribes and language groups along the river, as well as nine schools. It will include youth teams, community-based organisations, and guests from visiting organisations over three months of activities,’’ Amepou says.
By end of 2020, GFKC is aiming at achieving locally trialled and safe waste management protocols for communities developed by the youth themselves. Dobson is thankful to the partners and contributors of GFKC and local community leaders like the town mayor Vaii William, community policing officers under the supervision of Sgt Della, the West Kikori LLG president, Councillor Surabi and local ward councillors for their support so far.
GFKC participants have been overwhelmed with the support they have received. The latest addition to the collaboration has been the Digicel Foundation who has contributed substantially towards providing personal protective equipment for youth participants.
GFKC has received and is grateful for contributions in kind from ExxonMobil PNG, City Pharmacy Ltd, the PNG Australia Alumni Association, the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (Cepa), Charles Darwin University, the University of Canberra, Delta Store Kikori Ltd, Kikori Hospital under the care of Gulf Christian Services as well as friends and supporters of the project including the local urban community and schools.
- Kevin Dayonga is a volunteer with the Piku Biodiversity Network Inc.