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Land of the unexpected

Papua New Guinea undoubtedly fulfils its self-proclaimed moniker as the ‘land of the unexpected’. It’s a country full of communities who can inspire hope and amazement, but whose people and challenges can elicit overwhelming helplessness; the sense that no matter what you do, that they will always be on the back foot fighting an uphill battle.

Despite this hopeless feeling as an outsider and witnessing natural, bureaucratic and financial challenges, the Papua New Guineans themselves possess an inspirational spirit and drive in their day-to-day lives. Collectively, they are the most positive group of people I have ever met. A tumultuous initial 36 hours in the country included cancelled flights, delaying flights that had already taxied, a night in a tin shed and an attempt to cross a flooding river that resulted in a petrified me holding onto my camera for dear life as I was pulled from a 4WD window. Although I was terrified and exhausted, my travelling companions first checked that I was okay and then broke into big grins and told me that I had truly experienced the land of the unexpected.

I spent my time in Oro province, which is on the northern coast above Port Moresby. The capital and Oro provinces are separated by the Owen Stanley Range, which can be crossed either with a 30-minute flight… or a light stroll along the Kokoda Track. Kokoda has a mythical and elevated position in the Australian psyche but for the Oro people, it’s simply a way to get to Port Moresby.

During my time volunteering at a school in Oro, my eyes were opened to corruption that I thought was only ever exaggerated in movies or at least long gone from today’s world. Sadly, I was proven wrong. Funds earmarked for schools get lost along the way as unnecessary fees and delayed by unreasonable processes. To add insult to injury, these funds aren’t going towards luxuries like air conditioners or computers, the funds are going to ensuring buildings don’t collapse on students and providing more than one text book per classroom.

The amazing school community persists and finds ways around the limitations. Ingenious methods for building repair and stretching their printer and photocopier to its limits enables the daily function of the school. These people are a home-away-from-home for me and documenting my thoughts and reflections was a wonderful summary and reminder that I can turn to when I think that my problems are overwhelming me.

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