Papua New Guinea (PNG) has one of the lowest literacy rates in the Pacific which has been a cause for concern for many years.
Recognising this challenge, the Papua New Guinea Australia Alumni Association’s (PNGAAA) Milne Bay Chapter took the initiative to assist school-aged children in remote areas in Milne Bay Province by providing basic reading books.
Since the inception of the Chapter in 2018, hundreds of library books have been distributed to over 40 rural elementary and primary schools through the ‘ship-to-shelf’ initiative in Milne Bay. Distribution was halted in 2020 due to COVID-19 and recommenced this year thanks to PNGAAA and Books 4 PNG Kids, a Brisbane based book collection organisation.
The latest donation in early October saw close to 143 boxes of junior fiction books distributed to ten mountain and coastal schools in the Weraura Local Level Government (LLG) in Alotau District. The donated library books were shipped to Port Moresby at the expense of Books 4 PNG Kids then transported to Alotau with the assistance of the Conflict Island Resort through the MV Undersea Explorer.
The Chapter applied for K23,000 under the PNGAAA Alumni Grants Scheme to assist with storage and transportation of the books throughout Milne Bay and the neighbouring provinces. Unloading hundreds of boxes and sorting them for the respective schools can be laborious but alumni happily volunteered their time and efforts.
“Our dream is to reach every local level government in the province, targeting very rural and remote communities which have not been supported previously. We also aim to maintain our book depot through the Alumni Grants Scheme to cater for more storage space as we plan to reach the border provinces as well,” said Milne Bay Chapter President Dickson Kenas.
“This book initiative has greatly improved the reading and writing skills of students. One of our female students from Agaun Primary School in the Daga LLG topped Milne Bay Province in the Grade 8 National English Exams in 2020 scoring 43 out of 50,” said Agaun Primary School Senior Teacher Lavenda Boredi.
Retired public servants and senior citizens are using the book initiative to encourage places of learning through cultural exhibitions and crafts.
“We hope that community resource centres will be built in every ward and village in Milne Bay through this initiative where learning and reading has been lost over the years,” said Chapter Secretary and Book Coordinator Martha Wame.
One recipient is a blind woman who organises books for elementary students at schools in her ward. Another recipient, a retired couple, shares books with children with special needs children who cannot attend school on their island community due to the unavailability of a special needs teacher.
Ensuring health messaging reaches beyond urban areas to rural and remote PNG is crucial to an inclusive COVID-19 response, as Emma Minimbi knows well.
The Australia Awards alumna is going above and beyond her legal aid work in Jiwaka province to make sure rural communities are well informed about COVID-19 and the benefits of vaccination.
“The first thing I did when I returned to my village in Jiwaka province was tell community people at the local market that I had just received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Emma explains.
“I further told them that it’s free and I feel no different than I did before getting vaccinated.”
Having completed a Master’s in law at The University of Melbourne, Emma says she is more aware than ever of the need to share experiences across PNG in the shared fight against COVID-19.
“Papua New Guineans who are educated and know the importance of being vaccinated should lead by example and educate their rural communities,” she says.
“If we want to encourage mass vaccinations, we need to take the first step in getting vaccinated ourselves.”
Emma has also distributed face masks to villagers in Jiwaka and is actively encouraging good hand hygiene.
“I’ve also advised people with flu like symptoms to isolate themselves in their homes and refrain from coming into contact with other people until the symptoms subside,” she says.
Emma acknowledges there is some way to go as the vaccination rollout continues but says the early results of her advocacy are encouraging.
“Ten people in my community have decided to go get vaccinated so I will be taking them to Western Highlands Provincial Health Authority’s office in Mt Hagen to get vaccinated,” she says.
“I’m excited that rural people are now responding to the global pandemic that COVID is and making the conscious decision to get vaccinated.”
The Papua New Guinea Australia Alumni Association (PNGAAA) hosted its biennial conference on 28 September, providing 22 alumni a platform to share their strategic views on how best Papua New Guinea (PNG) can rebuild, strengthen, and persevere as a country.
Under the overall theme ‘Leadership and Innovation in Papua New Guinea’s New Normal’, 22 alumni presented on their capacity to address the challenges of COVID-19 across key sectors in PNG and introduced important domestic solutions for the country’s social and economic recovery.
The conference, which also involved representatives from Government, private sector, civil society and development partners, saw two types of presentations: lightning presentations – a quick overview of an alumni’s innovative idea or actual initiative in addressing the challenges in PNG’s new normal, and full presentations – a proposal or actual initiative addressing challenges in PNG’s new normal.
High-level attendees included Australian Deputy High Commissioner Mr Paul Lehmann, Secretary for Department of National Planning and Monitoring Mr Koney Samuel and other senior representatives from the private sector.
Mr Lehmann in his keynote address reinforced the commitment by Australia to support PNG tackle this urgent challenge. He said “COVID-19 has had a profound impact on our lives. However, in many ways, it has strengthened the partnership between PNG and Australia as we continue to work closely together to emerge from this crisis.”
Alumna Brenda Andrias – who achieved her master’s in public policy on an Australia Awards scholarship – presented on her work with UN Women on social protection and women’s economic empowerment during COVID-19.
“I hope that my presentation will garner support from relevant PNG Government agencies at a policy level to look at developing local economies and invest in promoting the growth and transition of those in the informal to the formal economy,” said Brenda.
Guest speaker from Australia’s Northern Territory, Cultural and Community Engagement Manager of Cultural College, Ms Djapirri Mununggirritj, spoke about health and educational challenges faced by indigenous Australians during COVID-19 and how they have overcome those challenges.
The alumni conference held biennially showcases the impact of alumni’s efforts in contributing to the growth and development of PNG in their various sectors whilst maintaining the people-to-people links with Australia.
The Papua New Guinea Australia Alumni Association (PNGAAA) held a virtual networking dinner on Thursday, 11 February 2021 at the Hilton Hotel, Port Moresby, and around PNG, to celebrate the achievements of alumni in 2020 and recognise outstanding alumni who have made significant contributions to their profession, community and country through their exemplary leadership, integrity, innovation and hard work.
Governor of East Sepik Province, the Hon. Allan Bird MP, and Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, His Excellency Jon Philp, both spoke at the event, reinforcing the PNGAus Partnership’s commitment to sustainable development and shared prosperity. In his keynote address, Governor Bird, urged alumni to make the most of their “rare and special” position as highly educated Papua New Guineans and give back to their communities and nation.
PNGAAA President Dr Rangou encouraged alumni to build on their success during a challenging 2020 and make even stronger contributions in the coming year. “2021 is the year to bring about possibilities. Unleash your potential and be the change that you want to be,” she said.
The event also saw five high-achieving alumni awarded PNG-Australia Alumni Awards. The Awards recognise excellence in fields including innovation and entrepreneurship, women in leadership and community service.
The winner of the Alumni of the Year Award was Dr Deane Woruba, a pioneering agricultural scientist from East Sepik. Dr Woruba was recognised for his ground-breaking agricultural research and his contributions to community development in his home province.
The virtual networking dinner connected 11 PNGAAA Provincial Chapters across the country including: National Capital District, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Manus, East New Britain, Morobe, East Sepik, Madang, Enga, Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands and Milne Bay. The theme Innovative Solutions for Alumni Engagement in the New Normal was in focus during the dinner with over 200 members attending physically and virtually.
The 2020 PNG-Australia Alumni Awards recognise and honour Papua New Guinean alumni who have studied in Australia and made oustanding contributions to their profession, community and country through their exemplary leadership, integrity, innovation and hard work. Supported by the Australian High Commission in PNG, the awards are distinguished honours for alumni who are an inspiration in their local, national and international network and achievements.
Nominations have been extended to Friday, 16 October 2020. To find out more about the Award categories and eligibility, download the factsheet and to nominate an outstanding alumni download the nomination form.
It is heartwarming to see our alumni giving back to their communities and ensuring people in remote PNG have access to the right information about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID19).
Noelynn and Peter Minimulu, both alumni voluntarily conducted awareness sessions for two communities in New Ireland recently. Peter was awarded the John Dillon Fellowship in 2008, supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. He received a certificate of attainment from the Mt. Eliza Business School in Melbourne while Noelynn has a Master’s in Science – Communication from the University of Western Australia, graduating in 2013.
The dynamic duo – who are husband and wife – conducted their first awareness session on March 31 on the island of Nago where they live. Over 30 people attended the session including children. The second session was held on April 5 at Matla village, upon the villagers’ request, after hearing about the success of the first awareness session.
About 90 people from Matla including People with Disability eagerly attended. Messages disseminated encompassed what COVID19 is, the symptoms, how it is transmitted, basic hygiene practices and biblical messages of hope. Noelynn and Peter used flyers and brochures developed by the World Health Organisation, supplied to them by PNGAAA. At a time of social distancing, it was a challenge to keep the crowd at a minimum but at the same time making sure messages reached remote communities.
Based on the success of the first two sessions, Noelynn and Peter received a third request from another nearby community. Peter works at the National Fisheries College in Kavieng and presented in early April to 100 people including college students, staff and their families.
Peter said this was his community service and he found satisfaction knowing he helped calm some of the anxieties related to COVID-19.
Noelynn added: “Many people in the rural areas do not have access to timely and accurate information and as an elite, I feel it is my duty to bridge the information gap. Knowing what they should do to prevent catching the virus and slowing transmission was the focus of our community outreach.”
The partnership between Papua New Guinea and Australia was in focus during the launch of the Papua New Guinea Australia Alumni Association’s new Western Highlands Chapter over the weekend.
Provincial Administrator for Western Highlands, Mr Joseph Neng and Papua New Guinea Australia Alumni Association (PNGAAA) President Dr Janet Rangou joined Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, His Excellency Mr Bruce Davis, at the launch in Mt. Hagen on 15 February.
The Western Highlands Chapter is the 11th PNGAAA chapter to be established and includes members from the province as well as Jiwaka and Southern Highlands. The new Chapter joins existing provincial chapters in Manus, Madang, Eastern Highlands, East New Britain, Enga, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Morobe, Milne Bay, National Capital District and East Sepik.
Attendees commended PNGAAA members’ achievements and their contribution to the bilateral relationship.
‘The establishment of the Western Highlands chapter is a great example of alumni’s diverse contributions and a celebration of the partnership between Papua New Guinea and Australia,’ Dr Rangou said.
High Commissioner Mr Davis encouraged alumni to maintain links in Western Highlands, Jiwaka and Southern Highlands and beyond.
‘The Australian Government has been providing scholarships to PNG for over 50 years and it is great to see that it continues to provide professional support to Papua New Guineans who have studied in Australia and in PNG, ensuring the sense of belonging continues beyond graduation, wherever alumni are located,’ High Commissioner Davis said.
PNGAAA was established in 2006 to provide ongoing support to Papua New Guineans who have studied in Australia, and as a mechanism for alumni to connect with each other and consolidate efforts to address economic and social development issues in PNG.
Over 11,000 Papua New Guineans have studied in Australia and PNGAAA recently opened their associate membership to also include graduates of Australian government scholarships in PNG, in areas including nursing and midwifery.
‘The growing Association includes talented professionals from all walks of life,’ Dr Rangou explained.
‘The new Western Highlands provincial chapter provides members with the same benefits as the others including access to professional development opportunities, networking events, and grants earmarked to support alumni share their talent and skills with their professional and wider community.’
As part of the launch, Interim President for Western Highlands Chapter, Nida Itaki, presented the new Chapter’s inaugural annual plan to the Australian High Commission, highlighting various community and professional activities.
The Papua New Guinea Australia Alumni Association (PNGAAA) held a breakfast fundraiser on Friday, 24 January 2020 at the Gateway Hotel, Port Moresby, to raise funds to support restoration efforts caused by the recent bushfires in Australia.
Prime Minister Honourable James Marape MP and Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea His Excellency Bruce Davis, both spoke at the event, signifying the close relationship between the two countries and a shared commitment to the PNG-Australia Partnership.
Attended by organisations from the Public and Private Sectors, Civil Society, members of the PNGAAA and individuals demonstrated the sympathy and solidarity felt by Papua New Guineans towards our closest and long-time friend.
Prime Minister Marape in his keynote address expressed that Australia was always the first to respond to any crisis or emergency PNG faced so it is only fair that PNG reaches out to Australia. Prime Minister Marape added that: “it is not the amount that matters but the intent.”
High Commissioner Davis on behalf of the Australian Government acknowledged the support from the Government of PNG through the PNG Hearts for Australia Bushfire Appeal, the deployment of some 100 soldiers to support the bushfire response and generous donations from the business community.
High Commissioner Davis also thanked the many smaller donations and messages of goodwill that continue to come in from all over PNG.
PNGAAA President Dr Janet Rangou said the bushfires had caused a lot of devastation in Australia and PNGAAA stands united with Australia during this crisis.
“This breakfast and the other fundraising activities which PNGAAA is running is a gesture of appreciation to the Government and people of Australia from those of us who have benefited through Australia Awards,” said Dr Rangou.
“With about 5,000 members across the country who have done studies in Australia and in PNG with Australian Government support, PNGAAA feels obliged to give back to our brothers and sisters in Australia during this catastrophe,” added Dr Rangou.
The PNGAAA has raised over K360,000 through a crowdfunding, an appeal drive at Vision City Mall, the breakfast, pledges from organisations, individuals and a generous donation from the Enga Provincial Government. Gateway Hotel generously sponsored the venue for the breakfast.
All donations and funds raised will go to the New South Wales Fire Service and Victorian Bushfire Appeal to help support the continuing bushfire response.
A dentist at the Alotau Provincial Hospital, Dr Hilda Audubo became the first local dentist to partner with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Medical Ships when they made their maiden trip to Papua New Guinea in 2011 visiting some of the most remote villages along the Kikori River in Gulf Province and the Fly River in Western Province.
Dr Audubo from the Huon Gulf District in Morobe Province graduated from James Cook University, Australia in 2015 with a Master of Public Health and Business Administration.
Apart from her day-to-day job, Dr Audubo volunteers with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) doing community service work including providing basic oral health care to unreached remote populations in Western, Gulf, Central, Milne Bay, Oro and Morobe Provinces.
Her passion for community service has seen her partner with a medical colleague to establish an NGO called Wantok Health Foundation which mostly does health advocacy, health promotion among communities, radio talks and currently operating the only cervical cancer screening program in West New Britain Province with a vision to see the rate of cervical cancer mortality reduced.
Dr Audubo is currently employed with Milne Bay Provincial Health Authority reaching remote communities in Alotau District and the outer Island Districts of Milne Bay Province with her dental team, running oral health checks and awareness through challenging circumstances. Her passion and love for serving her country is what motivates her to keep going.
Dr Hilda Audubo won the 2018 Papua New Guinea Australia Alumni Association Community Service Engagement Award for her contribution to oral health and health more broadly in communities in Papua New Guinea.