Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Saturday 20th August: Leaving at last!

It's been a frustrating, annoying, and seemingly endless process! But at last the visa has been approved, and I understand that VSO has sent it by Special Delivery today. blessings to Dr. John Balavu of the PNG High Commission in London - I wrote asking for his help, and within a day the missing letter had been found, and the visa approved. I've now received my e-ticket, and expect to fly on Saturday, 20th August. I'll arrive in Madang (feeling like a Zombie, I'm sure) on Monday. I'll spend a couple of days there, Tok Pisin lessons from Willie, and meeting VSO staff and volunteers. Then I travel up to the Highlands, probably by PMV (public motor vehicle, a Toyota minibus usually) and hope we don't get held up on the road.

Yesterday my briefing notes arrived from VSO PNG. It will be a challenging placement. The initial success of getting the Grade 9 textbook published has created problems for which I doubt anyone has answers - the focus has come to be on money and greed, not on education, and while this is understandable, somehow I have to help the teachers I work with refocus, and look to a longer term, sustainable business which will serve the country. The irony - that I'm leaving a Britain run by greed, torn by riots, and governed by hypocrites who have shown themselves to be as corrupt as they are sanctimonious,  to go to a third world nation rich in resources and unskilled in managing them - is something I feel I must keep in mind constantly. To try to teach PNG Nationals the ways of our supposed civilisation would be to destroy them - indeed, that is already happening. I keep coming back to the skills I have that I can take to my work in PNG. Frankly, most of the teaching skills I have are irrelevant. A few little hints about lesson planning and being aware of what the 'outcome' of a lesson is. A few personal skills like cooperating with another teacher in team teaching. But really, the basic skills I take are those that I was taught at the Westminster Pastoral Foundation 25 years ago - how to listen, how to respect another's being, how to help people seek and find their own best way. In short, the skills I need for International Development work are those of the Counsellor or Psychotherapist.

In fact, if I can listen to my dreams, and help my PNG colleagues listen to theirs, perhaps answers to the problems we face will emerge. And if so, I am sure that those answers will be as relevant to the problems facing Britain and America as to those of a developing country.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Before the Journey

8 August, 2011

Welcome to my blog. It's a new experiment for me. My hope is that  I can share my thoughts and emotions with you, whether we've met or not. I found, the last time I was in Papua New Guinea, and later, when Demeter and I travelled around the world, that daily experience was extraordinarily powerful. My dreams, my thoughts, the songs I wrote, the conversations with people - all filled my heart and my head. But the demands of just getting on with life - catch the next plane, deal with the police after everything we had with us was stolen, contact the bank in the UK to sort some way of surviving another week - all those demands meant that the inner journey didn't get recorded. In all humility, I don't think that my thoughts are so unique that, for example, the book-buying public will be weeping to have lost them. But on the other hand, I know how much I enjoy and value reading others' thoughts. So today I start blogging. Let me know what you think and feel about what appears here. That's what it's all about - sharing and relating. Like leaves of grass, our visible lives may seem separate, but how our roots are joined and entangled!

After months in limbo, finally I’m returning to Papua New Guinea. This trip will be relatively brief: I’m supposed to leave on 9 August, and return to the UK on 6 December. (Having said that, I still haven’t received my visa - supposed to be sent today. But you learn that the unexpected is the norm in PNG. Anyway, I’m planning, if not expecting, to leave on the 9th. So this is by way of a farewell and an update.

Originally, the plan was that I would work as a consultant editor and teacher trainer for the Simbu English Teachers’ Association. SETA grew out of the work Dee and I did in Simbu in 2006-2007. The textbook for Grade 9 English which we created has now been adopted by PNG’s National Department of Education, and distributed to all schools in the country (AusAid put up the money, bless them). This succcess has brought problems as well, however. The guy who did the final computer formatting for the text is now claiming that copyright should be his. A court case is pending. I can’t see that he has any case at all - he’s been paid handsomely already, but these things are not rational. Meanwhile, the teachers who worked so well on that text are now focussed on money, not on the remaining texts to be written - or so I understand.

As a result, the Principal Advisor for Education for Simbu, Mr. Essy, approached Voluntary Service Overseas in PNG, and asked that they bring me out initially as a volunteer. That way, I’ll be safer from involvement in the case, and can help SETA get its finances in order, as well as completing the planning and editing of the Grade 10 book. If all goes well, then I can agree a contract privately with SETA for the Grades 11 and 12 books, and return sometime next year to get them underway.

Dee won’t be joining me this year. So I’ll be in Kundiawa in a VSO house - there are a couple of other volunteers in the same area. I’ll work out of the SETA office in the Education Division buildings. Dee will, if the contract for next year is agreed, join me for a briefer period of training and work with teachers in 2012.

One thing I’m hoping is that I can build a longer term relationship between SETA and an NGO started by Scarlett Epstein, Practical Education and Gender Support. Scarlett is an inspiration as well as a good friend: a Halocaust survivor who, against all the odds, became a professor of Economics and Anthropology, and spent most of her working life in South India and PNG. In both places she has almost legendary status. In her late eighties, she is finally, and reluctantly, stepping back from global travels, but she is still very active in many projects. See the PEGS website

Anyway, with PEGS, or VSO, or independently, there’s work and experience a-waiting. Matilda Dimo (Chair of SETA) and her wantoks (tribal members) want to initiate us into the tribe, and have offered us a site by the river for a house - not to mention pigs and chickens. We feel incredibly honoured, though Dee in particular is adamant that she’s not going to spend her twilight years raising pigs in PNG! I must admit that there are moments, when David Cameron shows his hand in wishing, under the title of “Big Society”, to dismantle everything we’ve worked for for over 40 years, and when the nanny state clucks and tuts and says that life (and particularly genuine feeling) is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs - there are moments when a place by the Wahgi River seems most desirable.

I have opened a gmail account, <>. Our apple account still is there - - so I hope to be able to use one or the other.  Email and internet access in PNG is always problematic.

Our other news is that Dee’s project with the Norfolk Eating Disorders Association is now entering its final phase. She’s recorded a stunning self-help CD (with me as engineer - after years of messing with 10.5” reels of tape, I can now hold a 24 track studio on my laptop!) with some embedded sounds which should help people access their best learning and emotional growth brainwave state (which is what REM sleep is, no surprise to those of us who have been working with dreams!) She’s got the advice of Professor Philip Corr at the Univ of East Anglia, and will conduct a research process to see whether the brainwave entrainment actually does help people relearn their relationship to food. I’m very excited by the possibilities, and look forward to seeing what the research results show. (If you know anything about binaural beats, or brainwaves and learning/personal change, Dee would really appreciate knowing about that.)

Our other news is that we’ve installed solar electric panels on our roof, and are now addicted to watching the power meter which tells us what we’re generating and selling to the National Grid. We reckon our investment should pay for itself in 7 years, and overall we should make the equivalent of 12% perannum on the investment. Beats messing with the likes of bankers! As I write we’re generating 2.51 KW, and using about 100 watts. So our electricity bills should be negligible. What a thought in these times of energy inflation.