Here is a condensed version on my report covering the actual expedition phase of the book-delivering awareness exercise I undertook under the banner of Hope Trek Leaving on the 19th of May 2010, it took me and 9 youths from NCD one month through five (5) provinces to conclude this awareness run in the Western Highlands Province.

Hope Trek is in essence a demonstrative awareness exercise that first seeks to highlight the need for books and reading as a fundamental cornerstone of education and literacy.  Through the delivery of donated books to remote schools in PNG it is hoped to contribute in elevating PNG’s low literacy standards by promoting books as an additional source of knowledge.

In addition to this main agenda, it further seeks to enlighten as many people as possible about the importance of the environment and what we as Papua New Guineans and citizens of this world stand to gain or lose, in either the practise or non-practise of conservation in our day to day living. Other related points were also raised in this month long run making it a multi-pronged awareness exercise. These points collectively were used to enlighten and help broaden the horizon of people by demonstrating how we as ordinary citizens can contribute in our own little way in seeing change and progress within our community and the country at large. In so doing, it further reemphasised the idea of being self-reliant through responsible living by thinking and acting proactively in seeing change.

The key points addressed in this exercise include:

  1. Books and the importance of reading
  2. Environment and conservation awareness
  3. Climate Change
  4. Looking into sustainable income generating ventures
  5. Being responsible and self-reliant
  6. Basic Hygiene & Cholera Awareness – the cholera outbreak was a hot issue (and still is) at the time of our departure, so we made it as a last minute inclusion into our awareness points upon request by James Enage, the Chairman of Kokoda Track Authority who helped facilitate our trekking by providing us with trekking passes free of charge.

Modus Operandi Dissected

Leaving from Ower’s Corner in Central Province, we took on the arduous Kokoda Trail and conducted awareness and distributed posters every step of the way to Oro Province and onwards to Morobe, Eastern and Western Highlands Provinces where the donated books were eventually handed over to the schools.

As a starting point in our outreach, familiar grounds like traditional practises in farming, hunting and land use plans as well as the Bible story of creation were used to drive home the message of conservation and being environmental friendly. The idea was to start with the most mundane of actions like minding our litter, reforestation using local species of trees, maintaining traditional hunting practises and the prevention of unnecessary bush fires. Information on cholera with was also shared with them as well, advising them that the only defence available was in taking preventative measures like practising basic hygiene.

With these fundamental ideas, we appealed to our audience at the end of our talk that it was within our control to make a difference in looking after our natural ecosystem and in being more mindful about our actions in relation to the bigger picture as to how our actions will impact our natural environment and our lives. We further appealed to them to pass on these messages to their wantoks, relatives, friends and neighbours.

The dissemination of information materials in the manner of posters also enabled them to better understand the concepts and the mechanics of what we were trying to get across to them as well as to remind them constantly about these issues even after we were long gone.

Our outreaches were structured to engage our audience in discussions through a Question & Answer segment after every talk session. This helped them to further understand the points of discussion and also helped us to gauge our audience’s comprehension of the points that were broached. Hope Trek youths familiar with Motu further facilitated the discussions in Motu – especially along the Track route – and further helped to pave the way for the locals to step forward with queries and questions.

Being a public awareness venture, it was void of any form of discrimination. In fact, whenever we came into contact with any people, whether individuals or groups, we kept on with our outreach. And it did not stop there. We carried on in buses, on boats, on trucks, in schools, in villages, in urban settlements, in market places, at bus stops, on local radio stations and even around the age-old fireplace. In short, we were simply on fire and everybody else around could feel the heat and they were all burning and lapping up every single word (Whow!).

Given the varied background of our audience we made it as palatable as possible in their comprehension of key issues like Global Warming and Climate Change – among others; by laying it down in the most laymen of terms as possible, using local examples as illustrations whenever necessary.

As a demonstrative awareness exercise, we embarked with the motto of “walking the talk”. Hence a total of six (6) plastic shopping bags of litter of all shapes, colour and form were collected, starting from Ower’s Corner all the way to Kokoda Station. This meant we also had to mind our rubbish. The same was practised the entire length of our travel up the Okuk Highway to WHP and back.

In topping off this run (and coinciding with the World Environment Day), the books were delivered to thowe went and delivered the donated library books to schools in Western Highlands Province and sent two boxes to remote Lembena in the border area of Enga Province, Madang and East Sepik Province.

This gesture was hoped to drive home to children and adults alike the importance of books, as the most sure-fire way to help enlighten them and broaden their horizon. This in time will help in addressing the challenges we face in educating our people and the future generation about the importance of our natural environment because I believe that a literate society will be better equipped to address not only these conservation issues but the entire development process of our country.

Digress into the Employer Angle

From the stand point of an employee of a national conservation NGO like Partners with Melanesians, this exercise can be seen as an innovative approach into the idea of education and awareness on environment and conservation to include people and places outside of PWM’s project sites. Without placing any additional stress on PWM’s working budget and schedule, it was included into my initial work plan within my programme component to coincide with both my annual leave and the World Environment Day 2010. With this in mind, funds were independently raised through the sale of T-shirts in Hope Trek’s Shirt-for-Books campaign, thus eliminating any extra financial burden on PWM’s working budget.

I am of the strong belief that this exercise has raised the profile of this organisation and has helped shed more light on PWM’s activities and on environment issues and the idea of conservation, notwithstanding PWM’s commitment to the people of Managalas in our joint bid to attain Conservation Area status for the Managalas Plateau. As further illustrations of positive steps being taken by existing conservation organisations, the work of the Eco-Forestry Forum and PWM’s partner organisations all over the country were also highlighted during our awareness.

Call to Action

It was apparent that most, if not all of the information presented was lacking in the communities we entered and passed through. According to most people including village leaders, church leaders, women and youths, such vital information was lacking in their community and was an eye-opener for them. It is without doubt that more such information is required at the community level and in some instances, there is the need to connect these locals with technical specialists to look into pursuing such ideas like eco-friendly income generating ventures as a means to promote self-reliance as well as a support mechanism to drive forward the concept of conservation and environmentalism.

It is of my strong belief that the idea of environmental awareness and conservation needs to be shared with everybody in our country, from urban centres to rural and isolated communities alike. It is imperative that this idea needs to be reiterated and ingrained into the psyche of all members of our communities to reach ideology status so that it can be eventually transpired into ACTION at the individual level up to the bigger community level.

Take for example the hot topic of Climate Change. We talk about trying to combat and reverse this global crisis but the fact remains that we cannot make even a dent in the outcome (of total CO2 emissions) if this message is confined to only our project sites. Furthermore, being an environmentalist only on World Environment Day will make zilch difference to our fight to reduce human impact on our environment. The message of environment and conservation has to reach out into all corners of this country and its practise has to be maintained on a day to day basis to become part of our lifestyle if we want to truly drive home this message and get results.

In saying that, many a times those of us within the conservation circle or even those of us environmentalist at heart at oft times only preach about these issues and that is about as far as we go. Our actions often veer away from the path of our words. It is high time we reanalyse our actions starting with the very mundane ones like littering. This starts with that simple match stick, cigarette stub and bubble gum wrappers – buai spittle notwithstanding. It starts with us switching off the air conditioning unit to only when required. Switch off those lights and electrical appliances when they are not being used. In short, we have to practise what we preach. Walking the talk should be our code of conduct to demonstrate to others, giving the less enlightened a more realistic starting point to work on in being more proactive in becoming environmentally friendly in our actions. Only by doing that can the masses out there take us seriously.

::end::

More pictures of the Kokoda Trail segment of our awareness travels can be found  HERE

NB: Images from subsequent segments of this venture were not as yet uploaded at the time of this post. It should be made available in the next few days.

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