IN my work with rural people on needs assessment, financial literacy and land use planning, I have seen many changes in Papua New Guinea’s local communities.
While many people believe that changes have been for the better, most have been challenged to the core because they feel their expectations have been half met.
As a result, they have taken initiatives to create their own income earning opportunities utilising their knowledge and resources.
As a local trainer and community engagement specialist, I have been facilitating community needs assessments and engaging with local communities wanting to develop their land.
As part of this, I have noticed that some communities lack the skills to properly assess and implement their objectives. And many local communities gt their development priorities mixed up.
Most of our people do not really understand what it means to effectively plan, evaluate and implement their goals.
In my community meetings and workshops I remind our people of the simple messages our ancestors taught us:
“Cut down a tree today, plant a new one tomorrow."
“Catch only the big fish, let the little ones go; they will give you more fish for tomorrow."
“A garden is made not with one hand but with many hands so we all enjoy the sweetness of our sweat together."
“Respect the old for without them you won't be here today."
Most leaders working with communities think mostly about development projects such as classrooms, clinics, resource centers and churches. These aren't bad; indeed they are the basic requirements a community has to have.
What I have learned in assisting communities with their planning and implementation has amazed me.
Most of the elected representatives in so-called local management committees don't take the time to do proper and sound estimates.
Once I worked with a local community to identify how they would manage projects in their proposed development plan.
Their first project was to build an elementary classroom. As I took them through each item listed, I realised they didn't understand how much their project would cost.
All the materials were listed - timber, corrugated iron, nails, cement, tools, vehicle hire, carpenter's salaries, tanks, desks, blackboards, chalk, dusters, teachers’ salaries, books ….
But when I asked if they knew the costs of purchasing the materials, they answered that they had no idea. I then showed them what had to be done to cost all the materials required.
It was an eye opener for them.
They realised how important it was to include financial figures in their plans, whether the plans were short term or long term.
It also gave them the opportunity to register the plan with their politicians who have access to government improvement funds to assist local development plans.
The lack of understanding simple financial procedures is a real challenge. The need to financially assess one's own financial situation is essential as the PNG economy monetises.
It may seem awkward talking about financial literacy in the 21st century here in PNG, but it is a fact that many rural people cannot articulate the different between a want and a need, a shopping list and a bank statement or a receipt from the shops and a receipt from the doctors. What can we do to assist our own remote communities?
I'm of the opinion that resilient communities will take up the challenge in working as a group to ensure their needs are met. But fragmented communities will find things difficult.
Local communities that have effective leaders always find avenues to communicate with other members of their community and are able to discuss options to resolve community issues.
Close knitted communities are cooperative and work closely with their leaders to achieve a common goal. The leaders may ask individual family members to contribute a packet of nails, a tool or two and even financially to complete a project.
Financial literacy has so many benefits. The decisions you make about your money starts with you and rests with you. You become the judge and jury over your finances. Your income and expenses are controlled and you always know what your income is or will be in a month’s time depending on how well you record your financial transactions.
It is my wish that all rural people in PNG are taught to effectively manage their income, be it from selling of greens, coffee, cocoa, oil palm, cattle or bilums.
They need to be taught what budgeting means, what savings means, how to identify their needs and wants, constructing a simple cash flow, understanding the difference between good and bad loans, the different products financial institutions offer and investment opportunities.
It is also my belief that if our people are able to manage their own income they will be able to manage their families and communities without hassles.
If our people are taught to effectively plan their gardens, finances and other activities such as school fees or investment opportunities, our lives will change for the better. Contingency planning is needed as many Papua New Guineans don't plan for emergencies.
To understand basic needs in our communities, we must first be able to understand what it means to be financially literate so we don't go around in circles. The choice is ours.