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Welcome to the land of the unexpected

Heather Thomas has been working as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development volunteer with ChildFund PNG for the past two months. She explains what life is like living in Port Moresby, one of the world`s most dangerous capital cities.

˜Welcome to the land of the unexpected…’  This greeting is among the first things Papua New Guineans say when introduced to a fresh face joining the ranks of the large expat community in Port Moresby. While they are usually referring to the unpredictable nature of the country, I am beginning to realise it can also be applied to my experience here so far. Despite the best preparations and advice, both positive and negative, nothing really prepares you for the realities of living and working in a developing nation like Papua New Guinea.

Living in Port Moresby awakens you to the harsh realities of poverty, defined not only by financial disadvantage but exclusion, deprivation and deep vulnerability, from HIV/AIDS, gender-based and sexual violence, and impediments to basic human rights. What is even more heart-breaking is to witness and understand the experience of children who live amongst this vicious cycle.

It was ChildFund`s willingness to understand children`s unique experience of poverty and engage with children and their communities in complex and challenging environments that first captured my interest in their work. ChildFund`s vision is so simple, yet so complex, a world free from poverty, where children are protected and can reach their full potential. What has been most inspiring so far is the energy and passion of the ChildFund team here in PNG who are living this vision and who every day work towards making it a reality for children in Papua New Guinea.

I have no illusions that I understand PNG; it would take a lifetime of immersion to begin to truly understand the vast complexities and character of this country. There are over 800 local languages (tok ples), many cultural traditions and customs that often clash with the modern aspects of PNG, and overt examples of brutal violence.

However, there are also powerful examples of hope and change, and that`s where the ChildFund PNG team enter the story. These men and women have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of Papua New Guinea`s children in often inaccessible and hostile landscapes, doing so with a smile and attitude that strengthens my belief in humanity. Fighting vicious mosquitos, trampling across boggy and unrelenting terrain, performing logistical miracles to get equipment and supplies into remote villages and leaving their own families behind are just a few of the challenges they face working in rural PNG.

When I stepped off the plane in Papua New Guinea for my 12-month volunteer assignment with ChildFund PNG, I had little understanding of what I was getting myself into. Although it wasn`t long before I realised that volunteering in a country where people face daily challenges to access basic services that are taken for granted in Australia broadens your perspective of the world.

After just eight weeks, I am already falling in love with both the people of Papua New Guinea and its chaos, and feel privileged to be working alongside such bright sparks to achieve ChildFund`s vision.

The Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) Program is an Australian Government, AusAID initiative that places young, skilled volunteers for up to 12 months in developing countries in Asia, the Pacific and Africa. The program focuses on achieving sustainable development through capacity building, skills exchange and institutional strengthening.

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