RASHMII AMOAH BELL
BRISBANE - In September of 2016, a group of Papua New Guinean writers was invited to participate in a panel event at the Brisbane Writers Festival facilitated by the Paga Hill-McKinnon Fellowship, an initiative of PNG Attitude.
Three male writers and I presented an overview of the current state and directions of Papua New Guinean literature.
As we did so, audience members highlighted the potential of nation-driven literature to provide authentic insights and widening the lens through which PNG is viewed internationally.
Particular reference was made to indigenous writer telling more of the nation’s ‘positive stories’, especially by women
It has been the common trend that international media report stories from PNG that centre around issues of governance, infrastructure and societal breakdown coupled with the ongoing reliance on foreign intervention to address problems.
Often emphasised in this narrative is the ‘victimhood’ of Papua New Guinean women; participation in citizenship is attributed primarily to men.
It became clear in Brisbane that another narrative was overdue: that highlighting the participation and positive contribution of the women of PNG in effecting social change.
So I turned to the United Nations sustainable development goals, which encourage the active participation of individual citizens in implementing change.
What was to emerge as the book, ‘My Walk to Equality’, was drawn from Goal 10 (reducing inequality), one of 17 goals PNG is committed to working towards achieving by 2030.
I asked a large number of Papua New Guinean women writers to submit writing that addressed contemporary daily life in PNG, where and how they had experienced inequality, and describing what action or measures had been implemented by self or others to address this.
From the start, ‘My Walk to Equality’ wanted to document the voices of PNG women from a diverse range of backgrounds, particularly that of rural communities,
Original, written submissions were accepted in essay, poetry and short story format with a 1,000-word limit. Illustrations were encouraged. The deadline for submissions was 31 December 2016.
‘My Walk to Equality’ was to be the first anthology of writing by Papua New Guinean women - a substantial literary project and an entirely voluntary, collaborative effort between Pukpuk Publications, Keith Jackson of PNG Attitude and 45 Papua New Guinean women writers.
That this project was successful can be seen in a number of ways. To date, some 7,000 paperback copies, most of them purchased by sponsors, have been distributed within Papua New Guinea through Amazon.
Conference sessions based on the 279-page book have featured (and been booked out) at two international literary festivals at Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast in Australia.
In May 2017, at the invitation of Kokoda Track Foundation, I was invited to design and deliver a three-day writing workshop to primary school students at Sefoa in Oro Province. The content incorporated the key values of ‘My Walk to Equality’ were conveyed to students.
In July 2017, to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Kokoda Track campaign, KTF invited me to work with artist Jeffry Feeger and writer Iriani Wanma to produce a children’s book in collaboration with school students from PNG and Australia. From the workshop, I developed the book, ‘Butterflies along the Track’ which is set to be launched on Thursday 2 November, Kokoda Day.
Finally, in addition to other philanthropic activities, the MWTE project team was pleased to donate a percentage of royalties to Pukpuk Publications’ publishing program for Papua New Guinean authors.