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On a recent trip to Papua New Guinea, two of ChildFund Australia’s Board members discovered how grassroots activities were making all the difference in helping to protect children from violence.

“Thirteen provinces – more than half of all the provinces in PNG – are not connected by road,” ChildFund Australia Board member, Michael Pain, said of his recent trip to the Pacific Island nation. “There’s a road from the capital, Port Moresby, but it ends suddenly. Beyond this, it’s just jungle.”

Michael, and fellow Board member, Tureia Sample (pictured above, and on the right in green and khaki), were far from the comforts of their homes in Australia when they visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) in early 2023 to see ChildFund’s programs in action. The journey took them into the rural areas and remote communities, but it wasn’t an entirely new experience for them: Tureia was born and grew up in PNG; and Michael had walked the Kokoda Track several years before.

But the trip in February with ChildFund showed them a new and first-hand perspective on some of the day-to-day challenges faced by people, particularly children and women, in PNG – and how ChildFund was working with their communities to create positive change.

“Having grown up in PNG, I knew about the poverty, but being there as a ChildFund Australia Board member – and not as someone in the family or the village – I saw things from a much more objective perspective,” Tureia said. “I saw the challenges of poverty and development more starkly.”

Child abuse is confronting but village courts ‘saving lives’

Papua New Guinea has some of the highest rates of family and gender-based violence in the world. Two in three women and girls in PNG experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

As a lawyer, Tureia was particularly moved by the impact of the village courts system that ChildFund PNG helped to implement in remote communities in Central Province. “It’s a grassroot activity empowering and training local people to resolve disputes in their villages in accordance with customary law,” she said. “It’s a completely different standard compared to what we have in Australia, but it was inspiring to hear the impact the courts were having on the lives of children and women in particular.” 

Child abuse happens in Australia, but the conditions and severity of it in PNG were confronting, said Tureia. “There was one very sobering story of an eight-year-old boy whose stepfather repeatedly used fire, knives, and razor blades to cut his genitals and burn his skin. The awareness raised by the village courts around needing to report violence led to neighbours bringing the boy before the court and protecting him.

“It’s a terrible story, but it was inspiring to see how the village courts supported by ChildFund had helped to eventually save this boy’s life.”

An ‘enormously valuable’ helpline for survivors of violence

Another ChildFund initiative in PNG to help protect children and support survivors of violence is the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain, a national telephone counselling helpline. It is the first and only helpline of its kind in PNG for people experiencing family, sexual or gender-based violence.

Helpline counsellors, who have been trained with ChildFund’s support, have access to a database of more than 350 services across the country, including safe houses, medical facilities and local police.

“It’s not your average run of the mill helpline,” Michael said. “It’s an enormously valuable resource, but a very tough one operationally to keep up to date. There are services and facilities available all over the country, but these are extremely fluid. The capacity and level of support changes and differs between communities. If our counsellors have a caller who is in an emergency or crisis, they need to quickly determine which services are operational in the caller’s area and which will be the most useful.”

The helpline has expanded since it was established in 2015 and now services more than 25,000 people across PNG every year. It is gaining recognition from the PNG government and communities as an important service for survivors of gender-based violence, and family and sexual violence.

The growth and positive impact of ChildFund’s projects such as the helpline and village courts support were a result of the hard work and passion of ChildFund’s staff and local partners, said Michael and Tureia. The strong connections between staff and local leaders and communities have also been critical to making sure children and families get the support they need. “ChildFund Papua New Guinea’s staff are very well respected in communities,” Tureia said.

Michael said he was impressed by how effective ChildFund’s programs were in PNG. “Given the cultural and economic challenges of the country, it was awesome to see the positive difference we are making to people’s lives.”

The projects in this story are supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Almost 130 million girls worldwide are denied an education. Many barriers prevent girls from going to school and realising their potential, including poverty, gender inequality, and war and conflict. A lack of education can negatively impact girls’ lives, and the welfare of entire societies.

What educating girls means

Girls with a quality education have greater opportunities to create a better future for themselves and their families. But how does education benefit more than just the individual? Here are a few ways everybody benefits when girls go to school and have access to a quality education:

Economic empowerment:  Girls who finish secondary education earn almost twice as much as those with no education at all. They’re more likely to have better employment opportunities, and be able to contribute more to their families and communities.

Health and wellbeing: Secondary school education reduces rates of child marriage and early childbearing. Girls who finish high school are also more likely to know how to combat preventable diseases and have the ability to make decisions about their own health and their families’ health.  Secondary education can also reduce the risk of intimate partner violence.

Breaking the poverty cycle: Girls who receive a quality education gain the knowledge and skills needed to secure stable jobs with higher incomes, and live financially independent lives. They can provide a better life for their families breaking the cycle of poverty that has existed for generations.

Promoting gender equality: Education plays an essential role in challenging discriminatory views that keep girls and women behind. It promotes equality and equips girls with the knowledge to advocate for their rights. Educated girls have improved opportunities and are more likely to lead better lives.

What are the barriers to girls’ education?

Girls need the opportunity to go to school and learn, yet about 130 million girls today are still denied an education.

Some of the common obstacles preventing girls from accessing an education include:

Poverty: The cost of education can prevent children living in developing communities from going to school.  Even where there are no school fees, families may not be able to afford the cost of school supplies such as  uniforms, school bags and textbooks  ·      

Cultural factors: Traditional beliefs and practices in some  communities can discourage or prevent girls from attending school. Education for girls may not be seen as a priority or may not be valued;  instead, girls are expected to leave school early and take on domestic roles or look after younger siblings.

Lack of infrastructure: Poor or inadequate facilities such as classrooms, toilets, libraries or playgrounds  can deter girls from attending school. Schools that lack proper toilets and sanitary facilities, for example, can be extremely uncomfortable for girls during menstruation. Girls attending schools without proper toilets often go to forests and bushes nearby, which puts their safety at risk.

Long distances to school: Families living in poverty whose homes are in rural and remote areas are often far from schools. They may lack transport options to get their children to school. They may fear for the safety of their children, particularly their daughters, having to walk long distances to school.

ChildFund Australia’s commitment to girls’ education

ChildFund is working with families, communities, and our local partners to make sure that girls are in school and can finish their education.Initiatives include: 

  • providing children with learning and school materials such as school bags, uniforms, stationery and books;
  • helping to get girls back in school when they have left, by monitoring children’s attendance and when a child starts and leaves school;
  • providing schools with learning materials and resources such as reading and exercise books, and mathematic kits; 
  • training teachers to develop engaging, interactive lessons focused on improving literacy and numeracy skills;
  • building or renovating preschools and primary schools, including improving libraries, classrooms, and water and sanitation facilities such as toilets;
  • providing bicycles and helmets to help girls living far away to get to school safer;
  • providing children with disabilities with the equipment they need to learn, such as hearing aids; and
  • empowering girls to become leaders as peer educators. This includes providing equipment and tutoring materials so peer educators can support younger students falling behind in literacy and numeracy. 

How you can help

1. Donate to ChildFund Australia’s education appeal, which aims to get more girls in school and graduating!

2. Buy a Gift for Good: For many families, stationery and notebooks are unaffordable. By buying a school supplies set , you could provide a girl with the essential items they need for a successful year of learning, along with a schoolbag to carry them in!