PORT MORESBY - Jim Ben is a youth from the Motu Koitabu village at Mahuru in Port Moresby’s south. He is an aspiring entrepreneur despite not completing his primary education, and he is adamant that he will persevere in realising his goal.
By way of heritage, Jim is part Porebada and part Koitabu, the Koitabuans being the ancestral owners of the land that the Papua New Guinean capital is built on.
Numerous Koitabu landowning families have fallen into the practice of selling their land to anyone who is interested.
Many of these landowners are illiterate and are lured by the opportunity to make easy money.
The sad consequence is that families lose their traditional land and dispose of the inheritance of the next generations of Koitabuans.
However Jim’s story is different and is one of the few that brings to light the possibility of Koitabuans using their land in a more positive and sustainable way.
Currently Jim runs a market stall in front of his family house where he sells betel-nut, cigarettes and food items.
He has built his own house behind his parent’s and late in 2015 added two small rooms to his house.
These are tenanted and bring Jim revenue of K250 a fortnight. He has plans to build bigger and more permanent units and also to turn his small market stall into a fully stocked canteen.
It is not a glamorous establishment yet but it is proof that, if people set goals and have the determination to realise them, they can achieve them despite of how challenging their situation is.
“Being patient and wise in the choices we make also affects our progress greatly,” Jim said.
“I have been selling food items from my little stall for over four years now, yes it has been that long.
“Before building my house and the rent rooms, the area behind my parent’s house was very bushy, there was grass as high as two meters and a few trees that I had to clear over time with a little help.
“Also I had to distance myself from people who didn’t share the same aspiration as I did.” Jim said.
“This helped me to focus on the things that really mattered and gave me time to set my goals and to think about how to reach them.”
When I asked where this desire to do business started, Jim had a surprising answer.
“One time I was sitting with a group of friends and I asked, what is our purpose in life?
“Our parents have sacrificed so much for us but what will we give them in return?
“Later, I thought hard about what I said and set my mind to do something to earn a form of income so I can take care of my parents and in doing so show my appreciation for them.
“Because I didn’t complete primary schooling, I cannot read and write in English and so finding a decent office job was out of the question for me. So I started selling food items.
“Apart from my loving parents, I also owe it to my late fiancée. I got engaged quite early, at the age of 21. My fiancé made me a visionary.
“I used to live for the day but because she would discuss with me about our future it made me think a lot about ways to live a better life despite our circumstance.
“Unfortunately she didn’t live to see the fruition of our ideas. She died in 2014 of a medical condition she was born with. The doctors said she had a hole in her heart, which led to her passing.
“It’s hard not to think about her every time I think of my future plans but I use that as drive for my aspirations.
“I also had other experiences that shaped my mentally. For example, in 2001 the PMV and taxi service owners went on strike and business houses, government departments and the general public in Port Moresby were affected greatly.
“Seeing the opportunity, my uncle and I transported people for one kina from Ela Beach to Konedobu in our dinghy. We followed the shoreline from Ela Beach passed the old Sea Park and Fairfax Harbour and dropped off our passengers where the Harbour City Shopping Mall is now.
“We went back and forth and made a lot of money during the strike,” Jim said.
“Also before my fiancé passed away I wanted to pay bride price. It is customary for me to pay ‘Kuku’ which is a sort of engagement ceremony formalised by the groom presenting food stuff and money to the family of the bride.
“This is done before the actual bride price which also involves the exchange of cash and food stuff. My parents and relatives were obliged to help but I felt that I personally had to contribute significantly.
“I got a couple of my uncles to accompany me to Gabadi, which is in the Kairuku Hiri area of Central Province.
“We went by dinghy from Porebada to Manumanu and by PMV from Manumanu to Gabadi to buy betel nut in bag loads and sold them at the same high price in Pom. I soon made enough money for the ‘Kuku’ ceremony.
“These and other experiences taught me that if we work we will earn money and we must always look around for opportunities that we can use to our advantage”.
The other opportunity Jim saw was his land, which at the time was his only asset. He made a choice to develop it for his family’s benefit.
“I hope other families do the same too and not sell land so cheaply,” Jim said.
“I have started literally from nothing and to achieve what I have now gives me hope that even greater things aren’t impossible.”
Land is connected to our culture, it is connected to our ancestors, they walked and lived on this land, they fought for it, and their blood and sweat is soaked in it.
To sell it cheaply is a grave dishonour to our ancestors’ memory. It is like selling our identity.
This article was first published in Guys Official Magazine - PNG’s first men’s magazine