Alumni Profiles

Traditional crafts supporting rural communities

Traditional crafts supporting rural communities

Through her small business venture Anku Crafts, Anne Iauku is supporting rural communities in her home province of Bougainville through the trade of eco-friendly handmade crafts. The travel is also giving her an opportunity to re-connect and she is happy to see traditional harvesting and weaving practices being nurtured.
“A combination of interest in handicraft and culture, and particularly the desire to help my people in villages in Siwai District, South Bougainville market their unique handmade products got me into my small business.

“Rather than sending money to relatives, which encourages a free handout mentally, I believe in changing mindsets, and engaging village communities in more rewarding and continuous income earning habits.

“The attitude to work hard and commit to supporting community welfare was learnt at an early age from my parents. They were hardworking, committed to ensuring there was happiness and welfare for our extended families and communities around us.”

Anne graduated with a Higher School Certificate in 1992 from the Glennie School, Toowoomba. She started buying from just a few family members in 2018, and within a few months expanded her business to include several villages in the Siwai District. She now also visits the Bana District where she had never been before. The crafts include bilums, baskets, bags, hats, trays, bowls, hot pot mats and coasters. They are made out of raw materials including tree bark, wild bananas, vines, canes, bamboos, coconut and pandanus leaves, just to name a few. The raw materials require harvesting, gathering, careful shredding and drying before weaving into finished products.

“It gives me great personal satisfaction to be an active participant in my community. When I am in the village weavers tell me their personal stories of how they use the funds to pay school fees, pay hospital clinic visits and those really touch me. If I can help, parents give their children a brighter future, others regain their health; buy basic needs, it is satisfying for me.

“When I started my career, I did not travel home regularly, as it is quite expensive. Throughout those years, there was a sense of disconnection. I travel home frequently now, with the buying activities. I am interacting, bonding and I feel 100% with the community.

“Another rewarding observation is that weavers are passing weaving skills and knowledge to the young. These skills and knowledge and good culture need to be harnessed and kept alive for future generations.”

The craft business is as challenging as it is rewarding. The crafts travel six hours by unsealed road to Buka, a few minutes by boat across the Buka passage then eighty minutes by plane to Port Moresby. Coordination with limited access to mobile networks keeps Anne very busy on top of her full-time job in Port Moresby, which she is also passionate about.

“I am a Professional Development Trainer and I absolutely love what I do and give it 100 percent. Being an SME owner is my second job and I commit to it after work hours and on weekends.

“My job skills and knowledge and the skills and knowledge I require to run my SME complement each other. It requires many skills including excellent time management, planning and organising, communication, customer care and people skills. As a trainer, I deliver professional development and leadership courses. I have better workplace skills and practices now because of having to balance my job, my SME and personal life.”

Anne takes advantage of the many PNG Australia Alumni Association (PNGAAA) professional development opportunities available to members to keep on top of her game.

“I am grateful to PNGAAA for the opportunities to attend seminars that are always refreshing and motivational. The experts sharing information and practices help me to reflect on my own practices and experiences. Recent seminars on writing proposals, marketing, communicating and storytelling are empowering me to set goals and action plans both professionally and for my SME and community activities. I continue to network within PNGAAA. I am excited about the next five years.”

Teaching a community to fish

Teaching a community to fish

Fifty people (including 15 females and three PLWD) in Mt. Ogga a rural remote community in Western Highlands province attended five days training on fish farming facilitated by Australia Awards alumnus local resident Brian Yak. Participants acquired new skills and knowledge on fish farming.

Brian completed a Short Course in Agribusiness from the University of New England, graduating with a Certificate IV in 2018. He used the knowledge and skills gained from his study in Australia to facilitate the training and encourages fish farmers to open businesses. “Since the project ended last year, there has been continued interest from youths in the community to join the Mt. Ogga Cooperative Society and raise fish to improve their livelihoods.”

With the aim of improving the livelihood and food security of his local community, Brian successfully applied for K30,000 Australia Awards grant from the alumni grants scheme to enhance fish production and food security of the Mt. Ogga people.

The fifty participants have not only learnt new skills and knowledge but transformed their way of living. A participant, Joseph Abel said “before this fish farming project, I was involved in petty crimes. But when Brian approached the community about this project, I saw this as an opportunity to change. This project was a blessing to me. I’ve grown spiritually and went to church for the first time in August 2021.”

Participant Sabina Poles added: “Before the fish farming project, women were involved in gambling, but this has changed since the inception of the project. Women are now actively supporting their husbands who are members of the Cooperative Society. This has become a shared family responsibility.”

The fish farming project has built capacity of the Mt. Ogga Cooperative Society members and enabled them to understand the dynamics of fish farming.

With their newly acquired skills and knowledge, community members were able to increase production, improve marketing and manage fish production better. Fish farmed include Carp and Tilapia species. Production exists from fingerling or offspring raised within the ponds.

“This project has the potential to transform to a commercial level and I see this happening in the near future,” declared Brian.

The project is consistent with the development priorities of the agriculture and economic sector of the Papua New Guinea Development Strategic Plan 2010-2030 and Vision 2050, on the key pillars of human development, institutional development, and wealth creation.  With the pressure of a fast-growing population, this project helps provide food security particularly to vulnerable groups such as children, people with disability and those living with HIV/AIDS.

Two successful outcomes of the training included fingerlings distributed to each family member    of the training attendees which resulted in the creation of family fishponds.  Brian has agreed that aquaculture is key to development. Potential challenges include lack of access to affordable fish feed and quality fish seed among small-scale farmers.

Alumni support rural schools in Milne Bay with library books

Alumni support rural schools in Milne Bay with library books

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.

Remoteness no barrier to Emma’s health advocacy

Remoteness no barrier to Emma’s health advocacy

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.”

Husband and wife alumni reach the unreached through COVID-19 awareness

Husband and wife alumni reach the unreached through COVID-19 awareness

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.”

PNG Australia Alumni Association launches Western Highlands Provincial Chapter

PNG Australia Alumni Association launches Western Highlands Provincial Chapter

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.

Toastmasters Alotau

Toastmasters Alotau

NCD Chapter Launch

NCD Chapter Launch