By Vanessa Gordon

On Friday the 17th of November a six year old child was tortured sustaining wounds and burns all over her body.

This child is the daughter of Leniata Kepari.

In 2013 Leniata was burned to death by a mob in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea she was accused of practicing witchcraft and sorcery. The mob that burned Leniata to death have never been charged for her murder.

Her death caused international exposure and a global uproar. Women across the pacific and around the world band together to fight for gender equality and protest against gender based violence.

Leniata’s death introduced this new terminology of “Accusation Based Violence” in Papua New Guinea.

The country mourned her death. There were marches and campaigns around the world. We had enough! No more we cried! In true Melanesian spirit we sobbed and we wept. We lit candles and had twenty four hour vigils to commemorate a woman that no-one knew.

She was our sister, our mother, our daughter, she was our wife our neighbour and our friend. We shed tears. Genuine tears. Leniata’s death was mourned globally. We also mourned another death the death of our moral values, our principles and ideals.

This ignited a passion to make a change. There have been many changes with the introduction of new policies, programs and initiatives that have been working towards protecting the women and children of Papua New Guinea. Despite our attempts to make progress all our hard work seemed meaningless on the 17th of November 2017.

The horrendous abuse inflicted on this child is unspeakable. I have sat in disbelief for almost a week trying to figure out how did this happen?

How did we let this happen?

I say “we” and I say “ours” because it is our duty of care and our responsibility as a group of citizens, countrymen and women to ensure that the next generation of citizens, countrymen and women are protected. We cried and marched for this child’s mother. We as a whole nation made public oaths to end the violence. How did this happen?

The irony is chilling that three years after her mother’s death this six year old child has been blamed for witchcraft and sorcery! She was accused of inheriting her mother’s “sanguma” or sorcery powers.

Justice is yet to be served. Thankfully Leniata’s daughter survived. Her name and her face have been protected. She has been officially nicknamed “Justice”. There is hope for Justice. The nation rose up this week. The Prime Minister Peter O’Neil has taken a stand condemning this atrocious act and he is committed to putting an end to this atrocity.

The perpetrators who committed the barbaric crime are a very small group of people. They are a minuscule minority.

Unfortunately the reality is that yes this happened, and yes it happened in our back yard ,yes there are individuals who for some reason unbeknown to me believe that burning a woman at a stake or torturing a child is acceptable. This is a very very small group of people who unfortunately have made a huge impact in how the rest of the world sees us.
The majority and I mean a vast majority of Papua New Guineans do not accept this behaviour nor do we condone these acts. This is not the Papua New Guinean way.

Do we have a problem with gender based violence? Yes. But so does the rest of the world. There are cases in parts of the world that are just as horrific that are being committed daily. There is an issue with gender based violence within the Pacific in general. Before we can address the faults of our neighbours we need to fix the problem at home.

It is an issue prevalent within our region because of our inaction or lack of education, policies and awareness. This is changing. However the change is a slow frustrating process. I suppose slow change is better than no change. But at what cost? How many torturous acts are unreported? How many victims go unnoticed because incidents are not reported. Why are they not reported? Is it the lack of resources? Is it the remoteness? Is it fear of reporting?

Will recent events hopefully reignite a passion for change? One can only hope.

We hope for change, we pray for change and we cry for change.

One group in particular who has been at the forefront of change in Papua New Guinea is The Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation. The Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation together with Lutheran Missionary Anton Lutz combined forces to rescue Justice from her attackers.
Justice is now safe and recovering. Individuals like Anton Lutz and organisations like Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation work tirelessly and passionately around the clock to serve communities in some of the country’s most remote parts.

They have set up centres throughout the nation.These individuals commit their lives to our people. They are Justice’s saving grace. If they had not been on the ground and present Justice could have faced the same fate her mother faced. Justice is in a safe place and is receiving ongoing care thanks to Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation and Anton Lutz.

The time and resources they invest into the people of Papua New Guinea is one hundred percent authentic. They are good people who dedicate their lives to serving our people. They are to be commended for their unconditional support and presence in the region.

Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation released a short film in 2016 titled Senisim Pasin ( Change Your Ways) The Senisim Pasin campaign advocates gender equality, economic empowerment and fighting the good fight to end gender based violence throughout Papua New Guinea.

Too many critics scrutinise organisations that enter Papua New Guinea to help Papua New Guineans. The truth is that without organisations like Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation, without individuals who sacrifice their lives to live in harsh conditions thousands of miles away from home all in the name of hope, kindness, compassion and change there would be no aid posts, medical centres, safe houses, training facilities and basic ammenities provided on a grassroots level.

These groups move mountains and are dedicated to positive change.

We too need to be equally dedicated and committed to change. Our drums need to be heard they need to be louder. We need to collaborate and work together instead of against each other. And we need to be consistent if we want change. There are so many catch phrases and slogans for change in Papua New Guinea. And thats great. A slogan is just that a slogan, they are just words and meaningless words without effective action. We the people both at home and abroad need to pick up our game. Raise the bar. All our attempts to raise awareness on the internet means nothing if we don’t take the resources and the message out of the confines of your own home.
Lets defend the weak. Lets shine a light in the darkness.

You want to see an end to gender based violence and accusation based violence?

Then end it!

You end it by speaking up, by calling out the perpetrators, by using your voice and by raising awareness within your family, your clan, your tribe and region. You end it by intervening when a woman is being vilified, victimised and scrutinised for being a woman. You end it by fostering a culture that makes an individual feel safe and secure.

On March 8 1965 Martin Luther King Jr spoke from his pulpit about courage he spoke about those who recognise that there is something wrong or witness a wrongful act being committed but fail to act “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

We need to act.

Failing to act is costing lives.

Failing to act is killing our humanity!

Failing to act is killing our integrity!

Failing to act is killing our morality!

For Justice

interview with samina yip

By Vanessa Gordon

One of the greatest challenges that I face as daughter of a Papua New Guinean woman is that we love. We love hard! The challenging part is that no matter where we are in the world home is always calling! Always! It tugs away at the heart. At times there are events both historic and milestone family customary events that we can not attend. When the Kumuls win we can be heard cheering, screaming and wailing tears of euphoric joy! We are genuinely excited when we meet or stumble across other Papua New Guineans. There’s the universal nod. You know the one? When you’re on a subway or in a busy city square and you lock eyes with a wantok carrying a bilum. You acknowledge, nod, and walk away with a top up of pride in your heart!

When our Bubus are mourning in the village we too are silently mourning in the tea room at work over our coffee and muffin.

When a nation mourns we as a group of communities abroad we mourn in unison.

Does our geographic location make us less of a Papua New Guinean. Certainly not! I feel that the further away from home the deeper the connection because we long and yearn for home. Our longing is not a momentarily fleeting emotion it is at the very core of who we are it is a part of our identity. No matter where we are in the world home we carry this spirit within us. Papua New Guineas abroad seek to find fellow Papua New Guineans abroad. And once we connect we are family!

I have had the privilege to hang out with a Papua New Guinean woman making a huge impact within our community here in Australia but most importantly contributing to positive change in Papua New Guinea. Samina Yip is Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation’s Melbourne Based Project Coordinator. Samina has played a pivotal role in making a change and has been an advocate for gender based violence and accusation based violence in Papua New Guinea . Samina like myself is far from home. Samina has set up camp and made a home away from home in Melbourne Victoria. Though she is far from home she is a driving force behind Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation’s awareness campaign Senisim Pasin ( Change Our Ways)

Samina tell me about Senisim Pasin?

The Senisim Pasin Campaign is our education and awareness campaign that promotes gender appreciation and a stop to gender based and accusation based violence. It is a multi-year national campaign that has been specifically designed to change thinking and cultural attitudes about how women are valued in Papua New Guinea.

Since the official launch of the campaign in 2016, 12,500 people have seen the film and heard about the campaign globally and 70% have taken the pledge of support to be a part of the change and end the violence and In less than 12 months since the launch, the campaign has had some significant and immediate positive results.

The Senisim Pasin campaign has since been adopted by PNG Government’s Department of National Planning and Monitoring’s StaRS Program – National Strategy for Responsible Sustainable Development for Papua New Guinea. This is a comprehensive national program to 2050 which covers all aspects of “Island life”, the need for change, and how that change will be achieved in order to for PNG to be a smart, wise, fair, and happy society by 2050, and ranked in the top 50 in the United Nations Human Development Index by 2050.

How does Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation pave the way for positive change in the nation?

We do things the PNG way. All key people working with the Foundation are PNG or have a long and strong history with the country. Our loyalty has always been with, and will always be to our people. The Senisim Pasin Campaign by way of example, was built in a way that is distinctly Papua New Guinean and honouring to the culture as a whole.

With the help from our foreign partnerships, and networks Tribal has built a reputation for trust and follow through. Through advocacy and the relationships Tribal has at all levels from grassroots through to local and provincial governments we are able to assist with positive changes. We refer to what we do as being “a catalyst for change” rather than proving a parallel path to a solution. This is because we want to involve the community and leaders, and encourage and inspire them to be a part of the change. We work off the premise that people change because they are inspired to change and because they see a better way and can relate to it.

Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation along with Lutheran Missionary Anton Lutz joint operation to save a child’s life is by far a huge restoration of hope in the region. What are some of the challenges PNG Tribal Foundation face in the region and how do you overcome these obstacles?

One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of follow through from government leaders, so we try our best work with leader who are known for following though such as Sir Peter Ipatas. We also encounter people who are living in the “little kingdoms” they have created and don’t want people rocking boat, so we work around them as much as possible. We often run into barriers with people who don’t want us to get things done for whatever reason so again we just work around them. Tribal has an extensive network or partners and supporters so we with, and work through them to navigate these challenges.

How do you balance work life and the work you do for PNG Foundation?

Honestly, some days I’m not sure I do! I’m lucky though my current “day job” allows me a degree of flexibility and I have always been able to multi-task, prioritise, and time manage exceptionally well.

I, like all involved in TribalAU am a volunteer so a lot of my spare time is spent doing work for Tribal because I’m committed to cause and I have seen first hand the positive impact the Foundation has made to so many lives already, and I’m honoured to be a part of it. I do try to ensure time out for exercise (Jiu Jitsu and weight lifting) and headspace as often as I can because I tend to run at a pretty intense and full on pace that I don’t want to burn myself out.

What motivates you to persevere and continue to fight for gender based equality and against gender based violence?

You mean other than wanting to help save lives? Well, I was fortunate to receive my high school, university and post graduate training in Australia and the USA but I have never forgotten where I’m from. I feel a great responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves and to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, especially to fight for my country and my people.

I also don’t want PNG to be known for this violence! I don’t want people to be fearful of visiting our beautiful country. I don’t want PNG to be on the World Health Organisation’s list as having one of the highest rates of gender based violence in the world because we are not a violent culture. This is not who we are! This is not the Melanesian way and I’m sick and tired of the western world focusing on everything negative they hear about PNG. We are not the problem child of the Pacific and it is a small minority of troubled and ignorant people who are causing these problems for the rest of us.

Papua New Guinean’s talk a lot about being “one nation, one people” and I believe that! I always say that all Papua New Guineans are related somewhere and it’s in our culture to look after our own. To look after our own family! That’s who we are! We are kind, generous, compassionate and caring people and I believe the majority of Papua New Guineans would agree with this.

Perseverance is certainly right though! As someone who is still “wet behind the ears” to fighting this kind of fight, I have my moments, like this past week with what happened to Justice. It was overwhelming and gut-wrenching, but you realise it’s not about you! It’s about all those innocent lives you’re fighting for. We have to persevere. We have to keep fighting because if we don’t, who will? We have to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves and we have to give a voice to the voiceless. After all, who are we as human beings if we ignore the suffering of others? I believe that one person can make a difference, by making a difference to one person.

Something GT Bustin, Tribal’s Founder and President said to when I first joined as a volunteer was “even on my worst day, I’m still better off, than these women. This is why we fight”.… I have never forgotten what he said.

How can people help towards making a change or being involved with Papua New Guinea’s Tribal Foundation?

There is so much that we need to do for PNG and our people, and not all of it means people have to contribute financially. We’re thankful to the many who follow us on social media and help share our stories and help us raise awareness. We would also love to hear from people who can volunteer their time to help with the campaign or who know groups that may benefit from what we do. Donations of time and money, big or small, all make a difference to what we do!

For Australia, which I look after, I’d love to speak with more individuals or companies who would like to become involved financially or as a strategic partner to help us with our projects especially the Senisim Pasin campaign in Australia and in PNG. PNG in Australia’s closest neighbour and our histories are forever intertwined and in a time of extraordinary global change, strengthening the stability of Australia’s regional neighbours is important. The Senisim Pasin model is a simple and effective tool. It is an easy way for Australians to be part of something that provides a guaranteed difference to families in PNG. By supporting campaigns like Senisim Pasin that improve life for all men, women and children in PNG, we take one step towards long term stability for our entire region.