Halo Pikinini na Yangpela Wok Wantok! Warm greetings from The Land of the Unexpected! In thePidgin English above – the everyday language here – the message is “hello child and youth work family!” Sorry to be late in sending my latest postcard! Pidgin is an interesting combination of German and English dating from the 19th Century when this island country north of Australia was first colonized by European influence. In a country with more than 820 different and highly distinctive language groups, Pidgin English became a linguistic solution that enables people to move around the country. English is the language of education but it will be some time before it becomes the lingua franca of PNG.
Roadside community activity is a distinctive feature of life
And what an interesting place it is. Papua New Guinea is one of the world's poorest countries. And there are children and young people everywhere. A lot is happening along the roads and streets. People are found gathering almost everywhere and there are street vendors at almost every crossroad in the city. These one-person market stalls provide much needed income to support family members and wantok. Beyond the people interacting on the curbside, one finds hillside gardens running up and down the hills in all directions. My experience has been that gardens are prepared on flat land in the valleys or coastal plains, but here there are gardens on the hills as well. This is the traditional practice of Highlands peoples, who have brought gardening skills used in the rugged terrain of their interior homelands to the city.
HIV-AIDS is a huge social and health issue
Some have argued that youth crime is this country’s greatest problem in this nation of roughly 5 million people. Young people are blamed for something like 70 percent of crime in this country that gained independence in 1975. In recent years, however, HIV-AIDS has become the nation's leading issue, with the highest incidence of HIV of any country in the Pacific region. In a country where cultural practices reinforce sexual predation on the part of many teenage males, and where unprotected sexual activity is common, this issue is huge. And major international aid is being injected in the hope that the HIV epidemic can be contained.
Students waiting for class: Young people are also socially and politically active
Fewer than 5 percent of the youth population attend one of the six PNG universities but only about 7 percent of the youth population are able to obtain full-time employment at the end of their studies. So while the country has immense natural resources, to date these have not been exploited in any sustainable way to support families – especially those who have moved to the cities. In the countryside, however, Papua New Guinea is said to be a paradise with amazing natural beauty.
Mass transit PNG style involves open lorries and minibuses
I was given a copy of the new early child development and child care policy recently prepared by the Ministry of Community Development. It was interesting to see how indigenous solutions are being sought for local and regional challenges. If you get the chance, be sure a visit this place. From beachcombing and surfing to bird-watching and trekking, it is said there is something for everyone.