IF we are truly honest to ourselves, we will admit that growing up and living in Papua New Guinea is a negative experience.
As children, we were told that there was once a perfect world that Adam and Eve screwed up sending us all to eternal damnation.
We were told to repent, which we did and continue to do, and then forever ask forgiveness because we are horrible sinners.
Then we grew up a bit and went to school and our teachers scolded us and called us “dumb-dumbs”.
We felt dumb anyway as we watched from a distance as our peers collected end of year prizes; the rest of us being told that we’d go back to our villages and plant kaukau that the smart kids would buy from us.
Then we grew up and realised it was all a lie.
Now we’re miserable because the engineer and the economist struggle to find accommodation at Morata settlement whilst the buai seller who didn’t go to school owns a trade store and a PMV bus.
In addition, if our colleagues at work reckon we’re smart, they plot against us to stop us becoming more successful. We also find that hard work isn’t rewarded unless we have connections.
I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and everyone keeps telling me that they are the “back page” of PNG, the “last people”.
But many of these “back page” communities have better road and water links than the truly remote people of Nomad or Wawoi Falls. Many are only a few hours away from a main centre compared to the number of days it takes for me to travel from Daru to my village.
Why do they therefore perceive themselves as being backward?
Perhaps what I am describing is what is referred to by some as “structural violence.” Structural violence refers to types of economic, political, legal, religious and cultural arrangements that stop individuals, groups and societies from reaching their full potential.
As I ponder this issue, I ask myself, “What are the determinants of the way things turn out in PNG?”
I do not know.
But I can’t help think that perhaps any avoidable impairment of a person’s ability to reach their full human potential is a form of violence.
I have met so many young people around the country and each time we have a chat they talk about what needs to be done or how much help they or their communities need. And when I point out what they can do, I’m usually confronted with a blank stare.
Many of our people have been so beaten down by various forms of structural violence that its ubiquitous nature has been normalised as a stable experience.
Being told they’re dumb constantly gets normalised as “mi nidim moa save” – I need further studies.
If a pickpocket kid is apprehended, the crowd usually shouts ‘paitim em’. Yet some of that same crowd would also be ranting on Facebook about police brutality. What is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable violence, one may ask?
There are so many young people in PNG “doing nothing” when there is so much work to be done. Many are dreaming of “going to school and getting a job” because they “need more knowledge”.
There is also the violence of foreign aid and government.
Last year, whilst filming outside Lae city, the Tanim Graun TV crew came across an aid post near Markham bridge that had a power line just a few metres away but no lights at night.
Everyone of course was waiting for ‘gavman’ to fix it when they themselves could have assisted.
The aid post also had a gutter and tank but no water because there was no downpipe connecting the gutter to the tank. The cost of buying and installing a downpipe would be less than K100 but no one did anything.
PNG does have major challenges in terms of its difficult terrain. Indeed, I think that’s the only physical challenge to tackle – taming the terrain.
The rest of our problems exist in our heads because of the cognitive dissonance arising from the normalisation of various forms of structural violence.
The changes Papua New Guineans want to see in their lives and communities will come when people act based on what they can do rather than dwell on what they’ve been told they cannot do.