Fiona Cairns: Fiona Cairns’s CommUNITY News no. 1

Two deaf boys teach Fiona sign language

I can’t believe I have been in the wonderful land of PNG for 2 months. Over this time I have been presented with many personal and professional challenges. I am beginning to settle in the way of life which is very simple, from living near spectacular mountains, to watching children playing happily with basic home-made toys and be the tourist action with many curious stares. My funny stories start with people watching a white meri (woman) with a disability getting into a vehicle and driving away right through to watching an old lady leading a pig on a rope around the village, to my all time favourite, a solidly-built security guard with his full uniform on then I look down towards to his feet, I discover that he has one boot on, one boot off and on the bare foot he is wearing a toe ring. Not sure whether he was trying to start a new fashion or if he was just very proud of his new toe ring.

I am deeply honoured to have this opportunity because the rights of friends with disabilities is at the very core of my being.

Work life is very interesting; my major part of my role is to co-ordinate the business operations of a workshop where they make spectacles. This is no easy feat with four male staff. They are nice blokes but there seems to be a distinct failure to listen carefully to a mere white woman, especially one with a disability. But I am extremely pleased with my efforts to build solid interpersonal relationships with the staff, so hopefully we can move in the same direction to ensure a long term substantial business enterprise. In fact, the supervisor gave me a very nice compliment the other day, he is convinced that I am a PNG meri in white skin!

Fiona with a Special Education teacher
Next week I go to the Simbu province to conduct counselling to the Community Base Rehabilitation Staff and also empower and motivate long term patients of the hospital with disabilities. I am deeply honoured to have this opportunity because as you can imagine the rights of friends with disabilities is at the very core of my being! The final part of my role is to coordinate a national survey of blind and deaf children up to 14 years old. The aim of the survey is to establish and prove there is a definite need for increased funding. So, busy busy Fio (Fiona in tok pisin).

Life in PNG also has a very serious side due to lack of funds for early intervention for medical needs. Below I have written my experience of a death in a small work community. Today I heard an infant had died. A haunting feeling swept over the workplace, the news was received that an employee’s 9-month-old son had died. No words could convey the anguish on the father’s face whilst tears dripped down the grandfather’s face.

In the afternoon a wantok meeting was held. The meeting was to decide how much financial contribution the employees should give the family to help with funeral costs. Feverish debate pursued and at the heart of the matter was the death of a very liklik pikinini (little child), the sum of 20 kina ($10) was reached for each employee to contribute. During the meeting I was aware of a great sense of community that exists in PNG that is sometimes lacking in Australian society.

I was aware of a great sense of community that exists in Papua New Guinea.

The following day the family went to collect the body of the infant from the morgue at the local hospital. The mother was huddled with her faced covered sitting on the back of 4WD drive with relatives surrounding her and a small coffin was contained in the tray of the 4WD. The infant made the final journey to the grave in a fitting tribute with a convoy of cars with their hazard lights ablaze. My eyes were filled with tears and my heart ached for the family’s loss.

Fiona Cairns with two blind students
Later that night I was awoken by the sound of a pig squealing, the sacrifice and feast to remember and grieve the infant who had died. The rest of the world was unaware of the loss of the infant but the passing of the infant had a deep impact on this work community.

I am so blessed and privileged to come to share in the tears, laughter and joys of this precious town of Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, PNG. My placement in Goroka presents so many challenges but the handshake greeting and the smiles on the faces of the people living in poverty circumstances makes my role a little bit easier day by day.

A massive thank-you goes to all of you who support my placement financially. An equally massive thank-you to all of you who offer constant words of affirmation that I have the ability to make a difference. Mi laikim yu olgeta.

May God Bless You All Along Your Life Journey
Warm Regards – Fiona

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The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. - Charles du Bois