Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Like many rural outstations  in Papua New Guinea, Bandong, in the Morobe province  is beautiful and isolated.
To get to Bandong from Lae, you have to  make a four hour  journey on a four wheel drive over rugged terrain.  This is where more than 5000 people live  - scattered in small  hamlets all over the many ridges and plateaus of this mountainous area.   For the few who  live in villages accessible by road, the distance and the road condition continues to be a major challenge.
Pockets of villages seen from Bandong
The statistics that come from  here  are just as bad as those in other rural and remote areas of Papua New Guinea.  It  reflect more than 20 years of government  neglect and isolation. In Bandong and surrounding areas, between 15 and 20  women and children die every year from  birth complications and other preventable diseases.   But those figures  come only  from villages nearest to the road.
Its half past 8 in the morning and Rex Puli, the Community health worker, has  already begun seeing the  first lot of patients. Rex is one of the very few community health workers  who  has chosen to work in Bandong in  long while.  He works in an aid post that  doesn’t have enough and supplies.
Maternal and Infant mortality rate is unacceptably high
The  dispensary contains medicines that come from kits supplied by the Australian Government.  The kits are meant to supplement what should be an ongoing supply  of  medicines from the  Papua New Guinea Government.
But the flow of medical supplies is irregular and getting new stock  from the nearest health center  requires a 12 hour trek on foot to Boana.
After living and working in Bangdong for a year,   Rex agrees that the bad  road condition  is a major contributor to the unacceptably rate of  mother and child deaths. 
The education statistics are no better.   Leah Yalingu, the Bandong Primary School Principal  sees systematic  deficiencies in the education system  that  need to be urgently corrected.
Halimbi Gim - Coffee farmer. A member of the Neknasi Cooperative
Much of the problem stems from poor teacher training and an education inspection system that isn’t working. Illiteracy remains a major concern  and very few students  make it to high school. 
But the  people of  Bandong and other neighboring villages  are resilient and hardworking.   The road that leads to Bandong is an example of their achievements. It  was built  initially without any machinery by farmers using spades and sticks. 
Organically grown  coffee
Later,  each person contributed twenty kina and the communities hired a bulldozer to cut a road through the rugged terrain.
Using existing traditional leadership structures, they banded other – their common bond has been the  coffee they’ve been planting for  over 60 years.
In 2008,   Mong Bungun, an elementary school teacher built on the 60 years of knowledge and expertise and founded the Neknasi Coffee Corporative with the aim of  creating a reliable income source for his people.
The Neknasi cruiser
Halimbi Gim  is one of many farmers who joined the cooperative when it started.  He has more than one thousand coffee  trees on his land.  Through the Neknasi cooperative,  he has been able to build his cash income  and improve his family’s lifestyle.   In the villages  where members of the Neknasi cooperative live, there is a marked difference in the standard of living. 
Mong Bungun - Neknasi Chairman
More and more permanent houses are being built every year – funded by coffee money. Working together  has also  helped to reduce the financial burden of  transportation  on individual farmers.
Today, the Neknasi, cooperative  owns a landcruizer and a large truck that assists farmers to take their coffee to be  milled. In 2010  they were certified by  Fairtrade International.   With assistance from Fairtrade, they’ve been able  get a good price  and  also  tap into a global market for organically grown coffee. 
Apart from owning an export license, they are now working towards establishing a construction company with the primary purpose of building new roads in this area and maintaining the road they built themselves.

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting read . A typical picture of breakdown in Government services reaching rural people in PNG and seeing local people banding together to build their own road demonstrates that the human spirit battles and win again such struggles

    Congratulations to the people of Badong region for building your own road