My primary reason for coming to PNG (as I said in an earlier blog), was to help run an international media conference being hosted by UOG. I was then going to stay on and help make a feature film, but as also explained in an earlier blog, that never eventuated).
Instead, I've been drafted in to assist on a number of different projects in areas I would never have dreamed I'd ever be involved in. I can safely say, the diversity of work I've been doing here would NEVER happen in Australia.
My first day in PNG, I helped the head of the midwifery department (an Australian expat), shoot a short educational video on the examination of placenta after birth. I was coaching one of her students in presenting techniques - she was a little overwhelmed at first but did a great job! They thought my acting exercises were hilarious - I suppose no one's ever asked them to jump up and down on the spot to shake out nerves and centre their energy or blow raspberries to relax their lips before! The only thing I found a little 'un-fun' was the fact we used real placentas for the demonstration - obtained from the hospital the night before. It. Was. Disgusting. Sorry, mothers. I'm not good with insides.
I've also been working on the Pawa Meri project, which I've been working on since earlier in the year - we're trying to bump up the Pacific reach and capitalise on the popularity of the films in PNG. It's such an empowering project to be part of.
The third project I was drafted in to assist with was an evaluation of HIV/AIDS material produced by the Catholic Church. Funnily enough, they're one of the biggest supporters of awareness and treatment in all of PNG. They still won't advocate the use of condoms however, which burns my skull. It's such a simple thing, which will preserve life. In a country where HIV and AIDS are rampant and the number of children who are left orphans due to one parent infecting another, you'd think they'd be ok with it, but no. They're not. Infuriating.
And the final project I've been working on for the last few days is one in collaboration with UOG and IMR and is part of a Masters thesis for one of our students. She's (or more accurately, we're) in Tari looking at the effects of LNG (a mining company) on the local community, focussing on sex workers and the increase in HIV and AIDS, using Photo Voice as a tool. It's fascinating - we've been working with field officers from Tingim Laip (Think of LIfe), which is an advocacy and awareness group in PNG and their stories are incredible.
The acceptance of many people of religion also fascinates me - one young guy was telling me yesterday that he used to be a 'street rascal', pick pocketing and stealing; but then he went and listened to a pastor preach for two hours, felt a change, decided to get baptised and now works on behalf of the church (Tingim Laip is a Uniting Church group) to improve the lives of those less fortunate. He also stopped smoking and chewing betelnut/buai (don't even ask - it's a disgusting habit the majority of people have up here. The red shit they spit into the streets is revolting). That calm acceptance that the bible is right, astounds me.
I had such an interesting chat with the woman who's heading up this project earlier tonight - the work she's done to help children affected by HIV and AIDS (not just those who are infected by it, but those who quite often lose both parents from it as one infects the other) has has been amazing. It's infuriating to know that if the Catholic Church would only allow their congregation to use condoms, the numbers of both parents dying would decrease rapidly and children wouldn't be orphaned and shunned by their extended families (which is quite common). The number of kids who end up on the streets through absolutely no fault of their own is shameful.
Polygamy is also a big thing here - it's not uncommon for a man to have more than one wife. Quite often it's one of the new wives who brings the disease into the marriage - not only putting her husband at risk, but also his other wives. Aggie was telling me a story about a man in one of the villages she worked in who had three wives - he had two sons with the first wife and four children with the second. The third wife was infected with HIV when he married her, which she passed on to him and he then passed it on to his second wife (the first wife stayed clear). The man and his second and third wives died, leaving the four kids orphaned. The brothers from the first marriage (in their early 20s) tried to kick their younger half-siblings out of the house and onto the street, but the oldest of the four (a 16 year old girl) fought back, got the younger kids into a routine of chores, growing food to sell at market and school, quit school herself and took her older half-brothers to court. It took her a year, but she won the court case and was allowed to stay in the house and take care of her younger siblings - she also was able to go back to school and finish her education. Her determination is amazing, but imagine all those kids who don't have someone like that to go into bat for them. Heartbreaking.
This project finishes tomorrow and we're heading back to Goroka, where I only have about 10 days left before I fly back to Melbourne. Even though I'm really looking forward to my creature comforts (hot baths, fast internet, CHOCOLATE), I'll be really sad to leave here. I actually feel, for the first time in a very long time, that the work I've done has contributed to something important and worthwhile. I guess I just need to find a job that gives me that same sense of purpose when I get back.
Something to think about really.