An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony
OVER the last few years there has been an increase in the number of boys who roam in and out of Mt Hagen’s town market, some from as far as Southern Highlands and Enga.
They are not men who wander around looking for opportunities to rob people, nor are they street vendors. They do not carry knives to threaten people; just a roll of string and a needle.
They are known as ‘market taxis’ and they assist people to carry or sew their market bags. In return, people pay them between 50 toea and two kina. Some people generously give a bit extra.
After helping you, the market taxis just wait around without demanding compensation. They do not quarrel if they are not paid. Instead they say simply, “Em orait, mi helpim yu tasol” (it’s OK. I’m just helping you) and walk away.
They aren’t bothered what people think of them but they are enthusiastic and focused on what they are doing. They never went to business school to learn techniques of good salesmanship, but their customer service is much better than some of the shop assistants in Mt Hagen.
These boys are smarter than the men who hang around the shopfronts, the bus stops and the public parks waiting to snatch wallets and handbags.
I was curious to know more about these friendly boys and asked them to tell their story.
Their parents are poor and some live in the squatter settlements around town. Their parents don’t have a regular income and don’t earn enough money to support the boys.
Since they have nothing else to do, they come to the market to work. They say they earn good money from the services they provide.
Some of them go to school in the morning and, in their free time after school and at weekends and holidays, come to the market to work.
Mondays, Fridays and sometimes Saturdays are good days. Sometimes they make up to K20 a day. In a week up to K150.
They use the money at their discretion “to buy anything we want”. Sometimes they help out parents or friends.
The biggest challenge is that the number of taxis is increasing, putting pressure on their daily income. There’s also the threat of bigger boys and men who hang around the market beating them up and taking their money.
One of the causes of poverty in PNG is laziness. Unlike some other countries, PNG is full of business opportunities. But there seems to be laziness in our towns and villages. People wait for the government or people with money to give them handouts.
The majority of the people in PNG think that many people are poor because of the government, which is partly true, but maybe it is also because of our laziness.
A lot of people are not willing to work hard to earn a living. If you travel along the highways, go to town or visit the markets, there are people sitting or standing and doing nothing. When asked, they tell you, “Mi pasim taim tasol” (we’re passing the time).
If we are to overcome poverty, we must take personal responsibility and use our time productively. The taxi boys never went to college. They don’t blame their parents. They took responsibility for their own lives.
When we talk about poverty, we tend to think in terms of wealth. But there are different aspects of poverty; physical, spiritual, psychological, social and economic. The main aspect of poverty in PNG is poverty of the mind.
There is no greater poverty and it is often expressed in phrases like ‘I can’t’ or ‘it’s impossible’. It is amazing how the average Papua New Guinean does not expect to succeed.
Instead of saying, ‘I cannot afford it’ these little taxi boys asked ‘How can I afford it?’ The statement lets you off the hook, while the question forces you to think.
When you say, I can’t afford it, your brain stops working. By asking how can I afford it? the brain is put to work.
PNG is a rich nation and we are a resourceful people. Yet, I’m struck by our widespread pessimism. The worrying aspect is that pessimistic people spread their ideas that others are the cause of their poverty.
We are where we are now after 40 years because of the way we think. If we change our thinking, life will get better. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.
In traditional society, people were taught to be self-reliant and productive members of society. Sadly, our current education system no longer prepares young people to mind their own business. Instead it prepares them to look to others to give them a job and a hope in life.
They spend their lives minding someone else’s business.
If you insist on having poverty mentality, fine, but please do not bequeath it to our children. Do not infect the next generation with this sort of mentality.