I have just had the pleasure of a visit from a couple of the organisers of the Regional Baha’i Conference for PNG and Solomon Islands, held last month. PNG Baha’i Community now has its own website. Some 1400 people attended the conference from all parts of Papua New Guinea and a dozen delegates from the Solomons. The conference was held at the University in Lae, the only venue big enough to stage the confernece and accommodate the numbers. To put this into perspective, the actual numbers of attendees was initially estimated at 800, with adjustments of that figure made as each new group arrived. The first night the accommodation administrator went home at the usual time and so a few hundred people literally slept under the trees. Fortunately the monsoonal skies looked favourably on the sleepers that night.
It might not sound much to Western thinking to have such a gathering. However in PNG, even, today, people from different tribal groups can look upon each other with deep suspicion. Quite recently two University students from Sepik region were killed just before exams, in retaliation for the murder of a Highlander by a Sepik person, several years earlier. So University staff who were all too aware of the tensions likely to flare up between tribal groups in this land of 700 languages, were amazed at the amity that was portrayed throughout the conference, and the patience and politeness with which the attendees conducted themselves.
I remembered to them my visit to Dagga in 1984, and they were enthusiastic in their praises of the work done by the people of Dagga in developing their community. “They have had their trials when service providers turned their backs on them because many in these villages had joined the Baha’i Faith. So they trained their own ‘paramedic’, and got a grant from a Japenese company to build a school. The grant only brought the materials to the port 50 kilometres away. So they walked the materials from the coast up into the mountains to build the school.” I think it was to replace the school in this photo from my trip.
“The education minister was so impressed by the feat that he asked four teacher training facilities to permit entry to any Dagga student who had completed grade 10.” Again, this in itself is a remarkable achievement in this remotest part of the world, and I think it would not be overjudging the abilities of people to say that each academic achievement for village people in PNG really equates to double the capacity in physical and intellectual form required to complete the same in a Western Nation.
Talking, I began to remember quite clearly some of the wonderful experiences of those short two weeks I spent in Dagga. Unfortunately I lost two of the three rolls of film I took but what is left i have scanned and uploaded to Flickr. (See right menu, search ‘dagga’ in my flickr site). I am going to tell some of these on another post.