Our Volunteers: Esther and Paul volunteering in Papua New Guinea

Diocese of Daru-Kiunga, Papua New Guinea

Former Palms volunteer Cecilia Schmidt with a Youth Assembly in Kiunga
The diocese of Daru-Kiunga is covers a very large area of PNG’s Western Province. Many Western Province communities are in very remote areas with limited access to health and education facilities.

The major source of revenue and opportunity for the people of this province is the Ok Tedi open cut copper mine, operated by BHP Billiton. While providing some opportunity, the mine has also brought challenges to the region as large numbers of people have migrated to Kiunga to seek economic opportunities. Despite the mineral riches of the area, the Western Province remains PNG’s least developed province, partly due to the swampy terrain and partly due to the ongoing export of wealth.

The Catholic Diocese of Daru-Kiunga is the major service provider for the people of Western Province in education, health and other social services. It runs primary and secondary schools, hospitals, women’s programs and leadership training amongst others.

Bishop Gilles Cote placed a request with Palms Australia for a Financial Administrator and a Manager of Human Resources to work with and mentor local staff.

Esther and Paul

Paul Tan and Esther SimPalms Australia recruited Esther Sim and Paul Tan to meet the needs of Daru-Kiunga.

Esther is a Chartered and Public Accountant from South Australia who has volunteered to train staff in Kiunga. Esther brings 28 years of experience in accounting and financial management to the position. She has worked in a leadership capacity and taken responsibility for training junior accountants and non-accounting personnel.

Paul brings a diverse skillset ranging from scuba and underwater photography instruction, to aircraft maintenance engineering to teaching English as a Second Language. It will be his management and communication skills which will be most use to his work in Kiunga.

Paul has worked in cross-cultural and multi-cultural settings many times. His studies and extensive experience in creative communication mean he is well placed to mentor his PNG counterpart in Human Resources skills.

Paul and Esther have volunteered many times locally, in both Adelaide and Singapore, and are well equipped to contribute to providing sustainable services to the people of PNG’s Western Province.

Into the Arms of Mary

November 8, 2015


Our Lady of Ramelau, on the mountain’s summit

Many Palms volunteers find themselves living among deeply religious communities. Especially in countries with a traumatic history, we find our partners often witness to how a deep personal and communal faith sustained them through the most extreme difficulties. It is a great privilege to share in a community’s own religious expression and rituals, as volunteers Esther and Paul find when joining the Tatamailau Pilgrimage in Timor Leste-

Mount Ramelau, the highest mountain range in Timor-Leste has one of the most prominent peaks across the Indonesian archipelago. The summit of Mount Ramelau is known as Tatamailau (meaning grandfather of all), and has figured prominently in early ancestral myths within the interior of the country. The deep cultural and religious significance that Tatamailau harbours for the Timorese was heightened when Catholicism became the dominant faith in Timor-Leste.
When Indonesia occupied Timor-Leste between 1975 and 1999, the use of Portuguese was banned and Bahasa Indonesia was declared the country’s sole official language. In recognising the people’s aspirations and significantly adopting Tetun as its liturgical language, the Catholic Church became a focus for cultural and national identity, and the Timorese flocked in droves to where safe refuge was found for their heritage. After five centuries of Portuguese colonisation, Catholics constituted only 30% of the Timorese population; but within a few years after the church adopted Tetun as its liturgical language, that number shot up dramatically. Today, over 90% of the population are Catholic.

In 1997, while still under Indonesian occupation, Tatamailau was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A white alabaster statue from Italy of the Holy Mother was erected on the summit of Mt. Ramelau. Annual pilgrimages commemorating the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are made to the statue in March and October each year; further deepening the significance of Mt. Ramelau.

Esther and I had been under the impression that the pilgrimage trail from Hatobuilico to the summit was the only one that existed. Our curiosity was piqued when Fr. Norberto invited us to join him in the October pilgrimage to Tatamalau from Atsabe.
Were there other trails? We had to find out for ourselves…

Our pilgrimage started with a night’s stay in Atsabe, followed by an early lunch the next day, before setting off in a 4-wheeler for a half-hour drive to Airae-Paramin – to the east of Atsabe. This supposedly reduced walking time by at least 2 hours.

Paul and Esther on the pilgrim trail...

Paul and Esther on the pilgrim trail…

Even then, the walk lasted an arduous 5 hours or more within the country’s interior – the deep and long valley between the northern and southern coastal mountain ranges of the country; we were taking a hike along the back of Grandfather Crocodile (Lafaek); legend has it that the mountains and hills of Timor are actually the ridged back and scales of Grandfather Crocodile – the crocodile who became the land of Timor to repay a debt of kindness to the boy who saved him.

We were joined by more and more pilgrims along the way; tributaries of humanity flowing in from different parts of Timor’s interior; merging till a river of humanity coursed its way towards Tatamailau. We learned that there are, in fact, numerous pilgrims’ trails within the country’s interior; the trails ranges from an easy stroll of a few hours to arduous journeys lasting twelve hours or more. For many of the pilgrims, this pilgrimage has become an annual ritual – an act of faith to be performed yearly.

Uma Lulik

The Uma Lulik

And all rivers flow into the sea. Our sea was the plateau just below Tatamailau. We arrived just before nightfall, in time for evening mass.
On the eastern end of the campground stands an Uma Lulik – traditional sacred house – with rows of rough wooden pews facing its entrance. An altar has been set up at the entrance of the Uma Lulik for the masses and night of devotions before the final procession up to the summit of Mt. Ramalau the next morning.

Inside Uma Lulik

Esther sheltering with other pilgrims in the Uma Lulik

It was a clear night, which also made it a very, very cold night that we came unprepared for – the night temperature was in the single digit. But we were fortunate in that the Bishop of Maliana invited us to spend the night in the main room of the Uma Lulik, where a fire was kept burning. The pilgrimage to Tatamailau holds a special place in the heart of the Bishop of Maliana; he erected the statue in 1997 when he was a young priest serving in the Diocese of Dili. He had been invited repeatedly after that to celebrate masses during pilgrimages, and he seldom refused.


Mass at daybreak

Rosaries were prayed, hymns sung, with devotions and adorations proffered under a starry sky throughout the night. As we looked up from the Uma Lulik, we saw the entire hillside dotted with campfires. Around each fire, silhouettes of some of the estimated 4000 pilgrims in attendance were huddled, soaking up much needed heat to get them through this night.

When daybreak came, a light fog enveloped the entire range. As the cold of the previous night gradually left us, the Bishop celebrated mass before leading the procession for the final climb to Tatamailau, where the Holy Mother awaits.

The morning fog lifted to a clear sunny day during our ascent, and the surrounding countryside gradually rolled out in every direction, revealing a patchwork of lush greenery and lesser mountains. We were finally met at the peak by the placid, alabaster gaze of the Virgin Mary, and we felt we were treated to one of Timor-Leste’s most striking spectacles.

Summit View


It has been said that one can view the entire nation from this single vantage point; we found the claim to be no exaggeration that day…

Running Water

February 16, 2015

In urban Australia fresh water seems so abundant we use it to flush toilets.  It is easy to forget how precious water is in the majority world. In Maliana, Timor Leste, fresh drinking/cooking water is obtained in bottles or from natural springs, yet for other purposes any running water will do. Volunteer Paul Tan reflects […]

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Working on “Solidarity”

May 29, 2012

The word ‘Solidarity’ will be a little exhausted from overuse at the end of 2012. But have we stopped to take stock of what the word really means? And, more importantly, how do we achieve it?

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Papua New Guinea

PNG Flag

Population: 7,656,959

Area: 462,840 sq. km.

Median Age: 21.5

Literacy: 57.3 %

Languages: Tok Pisin (New Guinea Pidgin), English, Motu, c.820 indigenous languages

The terrain of Papua New Guinea varies from its rugged mountainous spine to its beautiful beaches to its volcanic islands to one of the world’s largest swamps and the large river systems of the Sepik and Fly rivers. These geographical differences have created a unique country with many diverse cultures. The ties within a family […]

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Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand. - Chinese proverb