By Vanessa Gordon

The sun is shining and the clear blue sky is a perfect reflection of the sea . The sound of children laughing and waves crashing on the sea wall compete with the chatter and laughter of women. The hustle and bustle of laying down woven mats on the green grass as they discuss how to strategically place each mat under the shade and protection of swaying palm trees.

One by one homegrown produce from gardens are placed out on market tables. Watermelon, fresh ginger, bananas, sugar cane, onions , tomatoes and an array of rich leafy greens. As the marketers set up their wares the food table is being prepared. Bowls of hot coconut rice, sweet potato, taro and leafy greens cooked in coconut cream. Plus a variation of chicken, pork, beef and fish dishes to tantalise and delight.

This is not a scene from a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific this is a community meeting in a bayside suburb of Brisbane, Australia.

This is the East New Britain Queensland Community monthly gathering.

East New Britain is a province of Papua New Guinea. It is the north-eastern part of the island of New Britain. The Tolai people of East New Britain are renowned for their cultural preservation and protection. From birth each stage of life has a significant cultural rite of passage or ceremony. There is a feast associated with births, deaths, and marriages and every milestone in between.

Clans come together and celebrate life. There is deep respect for each other and for the culture.

This way of life comes with a deep connection with your kin.

Like many Tolais living abroad there comes a disconnect and loneliness living away from home. We have our reasons why we don’t live in East New Britain they range from studying, pursuing career opportunities abroad, or like me they are not Papua New Guinean citizens and can not live in Papua New Guinea. My mother is from Bitapabeke in Kokopo , East New Britain. I identify myself as a Tolai woman. I am a proud Tolai woman. And my clan identify me as one of their own. I miss out on participating in cultural events. I miss out on the food. But mostly I miss the deep bond with my family in the little village of Bitapabeke.

I miss my clan.

Words can not describe this spiritual bond being a part of a culture that is so deeply entrenched. The best way to describe it is like your culture etched into your soul.

It truly is a special world that is so different from my suburban life in Brisbane.

Thanks to a remarkable group of women who decided to create a community home away from home I am able to connect with other Tolais. The East New Britain Queensland Community also known as the ENBQLD Community was formed in late 2016. The group is thriving in its second year as a registered organisation. The lady behind the vision is President Elsie Lee.

On one of her annual trips home she was visiting her uncle in hospital he was an amputee and Elsie was disturbed to discover that the diabetes ward was overcrowded with amputee patients however the hospital only had one wheelchair.

Diabetes is a big issue on this tiny island. I’ll save that subject for another story.

Elise Lee recognised that it wasn’t just the lack of wheelchairs or crutches but she noticed there was a shortage of gloves, bandages, nebulisers, and so much more. She recognised that this was a serious issue .

There was a huge discrepancy in the aid that we read about and what actually gets distributed to hospitals. Elsie was determined to make a change. She came back to Australia and rallied a few other Tolais and told them what she saw and what the needs of the people were.

I was honoured to be seated at the table that instrumented the creation of The East New Britain Queensland Community Group. I watched in awe as aunties and cousins became a fierce group with one common goal and that was to give back to our village people miles away.

A committee was formed Elsie Lee was officially voted as President and Alli Moore as Vice President.

The ENBQLD now has over 180 financial members. The group has recently filled their third forty foot container full to the brim with medical and educational supplies for various health centres, hospitals and schools. The group is about to embark on its second organised group travel to East New Britain for the annual National Mask Festival. They will personally visit the schools, health centres and hospitals and deliver supplies directly to the communities throughout the province.

The ENBQLD Community group’s mission is to close the gap and give back to the people. They have become instrumental in promoting tourism and are working towards establishing an educational resource centre.

There are numerous international organisations that are dedicated to give back to different parts of Papua New Guinea some have the best intentions however some of these organisations have ulterior motives they capitalise on our culture and our people all in the name of “financial aid” and “saving” the third world to feel validated.

Someone is getting paid and the aid is not getting to people. I’ll save that for another story.

Tolai people are very protective of our culture and part of this culture is to look after our family, our community and our own.

There is no middle man or wage paid to board members every cent raised from regular meetings and donations of supplies go straight to where they are needed and that’s East New Britain.

The term “it takes a village” is often thrown around however this is the true meaning it really does take a village. This particular village is based in Brisbane however each member of this group has one common goal and that is to give back to our villages.

For the people by the people.