Thursday, December 8, 2011

WE'RE BEING INFORMED BUT WE'RE NOT ACTING

OKSAPMIN, SANDAUN PROVINCE -  2002:  Election year. I  arrived at a  school in the Tekin Valley after a 6 hour trek through  the jungle.   The rain had just ended when I began an interview with  a local teacher.   I was asking him about maternal  and infant mortality rates  and he   mentioned in passing that   the nearest   health centre was   a  days walk from where we were.   Two days for villages I had passed. For those in very remote villages, it was just too difficult for them.  This teacher told me they had no proper record of  the number of  mothers and babies who had died that year or previous years. He gave me an educated guess. He said between 15 and 30 babies died in a year. So when a baby   died  just after birth, the  father would  take the tiny body to the back of the hut and bury him or her  there.   No one mourned for them. They were just nameless children who had not even seen their first birthday.
Oksapmin, Sandaun Province

NUKU, SANDAUN PROVINCE-  2002:   I met  a health worker in a small aid post.   Half  the concrete floor had collapsed. It had sunk  about 15 centimetres into the ground.   The medicine cabinet had only anti malarial tablets  and liniment  used for body aches.   He told me a child had died about 24 hours ago of dehydration.   By the time the child had been brought to the   aid post, the health worker couldn’t insert a needle because the child’s veins  had already collapsed. The father arrived minutes later and the health worker told him: If you want your son to live  take him now and run to the health centre.  To walk  would have taken  him six hours.  He did make it to the  government station. He had the health centre in sight. But the child had  already died.

PORT MORESBY, NCD - 2003:   At the Airlines PNG hanger. I was taking pictures  for a story on EMTV news.  The story was  about   the aftermath of  ethnic violence.  In front of me were  seven coffins bound for Goilala in the Central province.    What caught my attention   were two  coffins - a large one in which lay a man and  beside him was a smaller meter long coffin containing  the body of his  son.  They had been hacked to death  after being blamed for instigating  trouble at a marketplace.   Usually, I don’t try to think about these things. But   when you’re doing the job, you find yourself thinking about it  a lot. You try to understand the reasons behind  why people kill others and in this case – an innocent child.  I still have  difficulty understanding the brutality  and  reasons behind that massacre. 

PORT MORESBY, NCD 2009: I met a landowner from the Moran Area in the Southern Highlands province. He’s been fighting for about three years for the government  to recognize the legitimacy of his landowner group in the  LNG project.  He’s a young man in his early thirties. He   isn’t  as well educated  as many of you in this room  but he knows where is land boundaries are  and he knows his land rights.   He represents a group of dissatisfied men and  women.  
             So what does  the murder of seven  Goilalas in Port Moresby’s Tete settlement have to do with   maternal and infant mortality in  remote Sandaun Province?
How does the story of  a southern highlands  landowner tie in with  a child dying in his fathers arms   minutes before reaching  a health centre  Nuku?
In Journalism school, they tell you  to keep the big picture in mind whilst  giving your story a human face.   The stories that I’ve told you  shows  you the human face of the challenges and difficulties that confront ordinary Papua New Guineans.
These stories are also the human face of the dissatisfaction  felt through a cross section of society.
             A few years ago,  the  Institute of National Affairs  published a small article  about  the ethnic violence that happened in the Solomon Islands.  It said ethnic violence… 
“…was largely the result of imbalanced development …with portions of the population feeling alienated and aggrieved…”
“…they were missing out on opportunities… or had injustices done to them or had lost control over land and resources…”
‘…corruption  and deals over natural resources contributed to that dissatisfaction…”
Somehow all this sounds very  familiar.   If I were a doctor, I’d say Papua New Guinea   already has what appears to be the Solomon Islands Syndrome and we are in denial.   We’ve taken the formula   that created the disaster on Bougainville  and we’re creating a more lethal recipe for nationwide self-destruction.

OUTSTANDING ISSUES
 We as a nation have so many outstanding issues that we need to address. Yet we keep creating new problems for ourselves.    We haven’t solved Ok Tedi’s environmental problems  and yet  we’ve allowed another foreign company to  dump it’s waste into  the Basamuk Bay. While dozens of teachers in Port Moresby and other major centres live in classrooms because of the lack of accommodation and high rentals, we give ourselves hefty increases in accommodation allowances and we say it’s justified.

Why does a  father in remote Sandaun  have to accept the death  of his son when our leaders  have access to  the best doctors  in  a foreign country.   Why do we buy a jet  to be used by    just a few when we don’t want to subsidize rural air transport for ordinary people?

We all have solutions to  the ills of our society. For ethnic violence, we say send them back to where they came from.  But send them back to what? 

To a village that  has no road access? 

To schools that have no teachers?

To health centres that have no medicine?

It is sometimes difficult to understand why we choose to  nurture dissatisfaction and anger amongst our people?  In a sense, we are fortunate that the vast majority of Papua New Guineans  do not draw the link between decision makers   and poor service delivery.  Maybe it’s because they’re too busy just trying to survive  because of those bad decisions.

But I tell you this that void of ignorance is diminishing at a very rapid rate.  Soon every Papua New Guinean with a mobile phone will know exactly  what Waigani is doing though mobile internet access and they will have every right to be angry.

WHAT TO DO
Each of us has a responsibility. Every person has the job of fixing this great country of ours. 

If a teacher  taught  for eight hours a day, five days a week.  Wouldn’t we have better educated people?

And if that one person in authority made sure medicine got from point A to  point B,   wouldn’t  we have less people dying?

At almost every workshop or meeting where the role of the media is discussed, people  keep saying “the media has an important role to play in development.”   It has been said so many times that its become a cliché.

If you buy a paper, you see headlines on a newspaper. Turn on the radio at midday and the NBC  tells you what’s happening around the country.  

We can write a hundred stories about  illegal immigrants  and human smuggling…

 We can write about disappearing millions   and  investigations by the Public Accounts Committee… But the media  is   good only if ordinary  people and those in authority  take the information that is supplied  and act on it.   If  the systems  and authorities  don’t take steps to address the problems we expose, then our attempts  amount to  very little.






1 comment:

  1. We must be SURE to remember and admit that Australia and America are also areas invaded and occupied by alien foreign invaders who often lack any conscience on any envionmental issue.

    The SAME THINGS that have occurred in Papua have ALSO happened throughout Australia and America, against the Australian and American People who inhabited these areas for many TENS OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS, prior to invasion by the Evil Empire.

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