Like many rural outstations in Papua New Guinea, Bandong, in the Morobe province is beautiful and isolated.
To get to Bandong from Lae, you have to make a four hour journey on a four wheel drive over rugged terrain. This is where more than 5000 people live – scattered in small hamlets all over the many ridges and plateaus of this mountainous area. For the few who live in villages accessible by road, the distance and the road condition continues to be a major challenge.
The statistics that come from here are just as bad as those in other rural and remote areas of Papua New Guinea. It reflect more than 20 years of government neglect and isolation. In Bandong and surrounding areas, between 15 and 20 women and children die every year from birth complications and other preventable diseases. But those figures come only from villages nearest to the road.
Its half past 8 in the morning and Rex Puli, the Community health worker, has already begun seeing the first lot of patients. Rex is one of the very few community health workers who has chosen to work in Bandong in long while. He works in an aid post that doesn’t have enough and supplies.
The dispensary contains medicines that come from kits supplied by the Australian Government. The kits are meant to supplement what should be an ongoing supply of medicines from the Papua New Guinea Government.
But the flow of medical supplies is irregular and getting new stock from the nearest health center requires a 12 hour trek on foot to Boana.
After living and working in Bangdong for a year, Rex agrees that the bad road condition is a major contributor to the unacceptably rate of mother and child deaths.
The education statistics are no better. Leah Yalingu, the Bandong Primary School Principal sees systematic deficiencies in the education system that need to be urgently corrected.
Much of the problem stems from poor teacher training and an education inspection system that isn’t working. Illiteracy remains a major concern and very few students make it to high school.
But the people of Bandong and other neighboring villages are resilient and hardworking. The road that leads to Bandong is an example of their achievements. It was built initially without any machinery by farmers usingspades and sticks.
Later, each person contributedtwenty kina and the communities hired a bulldozer to cut a road through the rugged terrain.
In 2008, Mong Bungun, an elementary school teacher built on the 60 years of knowledge and expertise and founded the Neknasi Coffee Corporative with the aim of creating a reliable income source for his people.
Halimbi Gim is one of many farmers who joined the cooperative when it started. He has more than one thousand coffee trees on his land. Through the Neknasi cooperative, he has been able to build his cash income and improve his family’s lifestyle. In the villages where members of the Neknasi cooperative live, there is a marked difference in the standard of living.
More and more permanent houses are being built every year – funded by coffee money. Working together has also helped to reduce the financial burden of transportation on individual farmers.
Today, the Neknasi, cooperative owns a landcruizer and a large truck that assists farmers to take their coffee to be milled.
In 2010 they were certified by Fairtrade International. With assistance from Fairtrade, they’ve been able get a good price and also tap into a global market for organically grown coffee.