Last year I made my first visit to PNG, a country that has always been on my must go to list. A quick night stop in Port Moresby, an internal flight to Mt Hagen then a two hour drive up into the hills saw me arrive in the community of Grisa, located in the Banz area of Jiwarka province.
I was there to meet Dominic, a community member from Grisa and Sister Regina, who have been running a project called Community Conversations since 2007. The aim of the program is to help create safe spaces, facilitated by trained community members, so everyone in the community can discuss the key issues they face, such as violence, HIV or other issues they have identified.
Dominic was one of the first volunteers on the program. Through the training, he learnt communication and problem-solving skills that helped him lead open, respectful community discussions in his village.
Grisa was the first village to participate in the Community Conversations program and since starting they have seen many positive changes such as reduction in domestic violence and better gender equality.
“Now everyone, women and young people, have a voice and peace is maintained that way.” – Dominic.
Dominic described how his community has changed. He said, “Before the community conversation, we were just like any other community. We had no respect, adulteries, divorces and inequality in gender. A lot of people drink in our community and go partying in night dances. This has declined to the point where no one is doing it anymore.”
“They are now using money wisely, purchasing clothes for the children, paying school project fees, and basic necessities as salt and cooking oil.” – Dominic.
Whilst I was there, Dominic was helping teach on a week long workshop for community volunteers who wanted to hold Community Conversation sessions in their own villagers. Ranging from teenagers to adults, most of the volunteers had either experienced or had been involved in many of the issues that beset these remote communities.
“I have seen changes in people’s lives and feel very proud. As a facilitator of Community Conversations I feel proud that I can contribute something to the community meaningfully.” – Dominic.
Dominic has seen changes in himself as well as his community. He said, “In the past, I am the one that make the decision. I am the boss of the house. After getting schooled in CC, I let my wife and children partake in the decisions affecting our family. I have quit on alcohol. In the past, I don’t work in the gardens. I laze around and let my wife work for the family most times. I have changed this attitude and helped a lot in farming my land to support my wife.”
Having felt the impact the program has had on his home village, Dominic is confident that Community Conversations can make a difference to other communities.
“Firstly, attitude must change and people should realise their potential and power they have within to develop their province and country as a whole. I am not a leader or politician but I believe this can be achievable.” – Dominic.
“I find much happiness when I see my community in peace, and my children safe.”- Dominic.