I HAVE never met Bronte Moules who is our (that is Australia’s) deputy high commissioner in Papua New Guinea – an important post in the PNG-Australia relationship.
But if I ever do meet her – and I hope to on a forthcoming visit to PNG – I think I’ll like her. I’ve found Bronte positive, helpful and a person who clearly has Papua New Guinean interests at heart.
Last October, Bronte was also expressing encouragement about what was the forthcoming publication of Rashmii Amoah Bell’s landmark collection of PNG women’s writing, My Walk to Equality, much mentioned in these columns of late.
“This sounds like a great initiative,” Bronte wrote to me in an email. “It’s something that we’d be interested, in principle, in supporting in some way.”
We, in this case, being the Australian High Commission.
Bronte added the mandatory rider in all these exchanges that “the challenge as always is for us to identify a suitable possible funding option.
“We’re not able to provide any guarantees at this stage, but we are looking into possible options.”
Fair enough, that’s as good as it gets at these early stages of seeking to source funds even for knock-down good ideas like this one.
Knock-down good because ‘My Walk to Equality’ is a project that strongly pitches both Australian policy and that of the United Nations.
Australia claims “a steadfast and ongoing commitment to be at the forefront of efforts to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”
While the UN reckons that the “promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women is central to the mandate of UNDP and intrinsic to its development approach.”
So it’s pretty clear that the first ever collection of PNG women’s writing, in which the authors were asked to address these high-minded global ideals in the PNG context, was targeting the right goals.
There were a lot of challenges for Rashmii, Phil Fitzpatrick and me in getting this book published – but the biggest of all was raising funds so it could be printed and distributed in sufficient quantity create some impact.
I put it to Roy Trivedy, the UNDP’s head honcho in PNG, that, given his organisation’s fine words on the matter, he might come to the party. But no.
“Unfortunately we are not able to assist as it is the last quarter of our financial year,” quoth Roy. “Really sorry.”
And when I tweeted, “A surprise tonight. @UNDP unable to assist distribute first ever book of women's writing from #PNG on theme of women's equality. Stunned!”, Roy rejoindered, “That's inaccurate. We are happy 2 distribute but not able 2 fund publication.”
But you can’t distribute a hard copy book no one can afford to print. So that brought an end to that little exchange.
Meanwhile, back at the High Commission, the Australians were being more positive and asked me to submit a detailed proposal for funding.
Three days later Bronte got my five page submission including information on audience and partners, how we would obtain contributions from writers, publisher, distribution plan, project team, promotional strategy and a full project budget for a targeted 2,000 copies to be distributed free of charge throughout PNG.
That’s about $40,000 worth of books.
“A full funding proposal covering these elements will help us work out whether the project is something we could support through our funding mechanisms,” said Bronte.
Late in November, I heard from Bronte again, this time sounding more hesitant: “We’ve been looking thoroughly into possible funding options and unfortunately the most obvious options did not prove viable.... However we have one more option we could explore.”
By early December a discussion with me on “potential options” was sought – the organisation, UN Women, was mentioned - and a bit later a conversation ensued which made it sound like the project was back on track.
But since then three things have happened - silence, Christmas and more silence.
Meanwhile other discussions with a private foundation have gone nowhere and the book has been published but there are no funds to print it and get it to the Papua New Guinean readers who would most benefit from its wisdom.
Our own fund-raising has been sufficient to print 100 copies which will mainly feature at the book launches, which we are also funding, in Port Moresby and Brisbane to market the book and recognise the writers.
So we are left with a “great initiative” which, as of today, seems to have no place to go.
Of course, if you’re in a position to buy the book, you can order it online at Amazon. Just follow this link via Pukpuk Publications which will see royalties ploughed back into PNG writing.
Some organisations have said they’ll purchase multiple copies and distribute them amongst their employees and contacts, which is a terrific idea. Perhaps your organisation could do the same.
Meanwhile, we remain hopeful that a major funder will appear from the many organisations we’ve been in touch with and that My Walk to Equality will set out on that long march to places where it may do some good.