Papua New Guinea

Returning To The Ordinary World

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imageMy first visit to Papua New Guinea was life-changing. I was taken to villages on islands that were a million miles from where I existed, and found people that lived lives of contentment but without the trappings of infrastructure that we take for granted. I’m not taking a romantic view here, and appreciate that their existence is also not without problems.

Have you been there before? Not necessarily to Papua New Guinea, but somewhere where you were taken out of the Ordinary World. It changes you. That is the great thing about travel.

Being taken out of the Ordinary World happens in darker times too, when you don’t actually leave the familiar surroundings of home, but when events conspire to wreck and ruin your world. You leave and return to the Ordinary World you once knew. And again you are changed. Hopefully for the better, but not always. There can be pain and loss involved. Being changed means that things are not the same as they were before.

It is in this experience that we find the Hero’s Journey that was defined best by Joseph Campbell. You have to both leave and return to the Ordinary World to complete The Hero’s Journey. This post is about returning.

It is now more than 10 days since my last post here. A long time. Why the delay?

I’ve come to realise that I am on the return from the Hero’s Journey. The return doesn’t happen when you clear customs at the airport. It is more intrusive than that. And I think that accounts for the delay.

Partly, it was because I spent some time with my family in Melbourne. That was a very good opportunity and connect, especially in the wake of my brother’s recent death.

But I am also back from the epic quest of the 10 City Bridge Run. Ought it not to be Full Steam Ahead pushing ahead into the Design Forum to unpack this question “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” Well, the answer to pushing ahead Full Steam Ahead is both yes, and no.

Yes, it is Full Steam Ahead, and this question about child survival is being examined with a number of teams working using the framework of the Acumen Fund/IDEO Introduction to Human Centred Design online course to start giving some definition to where we should go next.

But I found it was on a personal level time to wind myself back from being in a Full Steam Ahead mode. I needed to change gears a few times. Reflect on what happened. And then finally last night, it was clear to me that I was on my way home, returning to the Ordinary World. That is part of the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey is not something that is behind me, and this is an administrative requirement to find my own way home after passing through the pageantry of the finish line.

There is nothing mechanical about The Hero’s Journey. And I think there is a need to distinguish a fine line between ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and ‘an heroic journey’. Both are intriguing, and often they overlap, but in reality our appetite for media fuels our hunger for a straight diet of heroic journeys, and we shy away from The Hero’s Journey because it forces us to confront questions about ourselves that are better left undisturbed. The Hero’s Journey is far more entertaining to enjoy from the comfort of the audience watching the latest instalment from Hollywood.

I’m a little sceptical of workshops that take you through this process, allowing the exploration of a Special World from a sanitised and fluorescent-lit room. Far from being cynical, I’m instead suggesting that if we are serious about story-telling and exploring the Special World’s that adventures calls us to explore, then we should open ourselves to that journey. Be vulnerable. Abandon the Ordinary World for a moment.

So what has helped me return? Three things.

Firstly, it was spending time with my family. That was important.

Secondly, it was taking time to review where I had been and where the rest of this year is likely to take me, and in doing so looking beyond this obsession with the Design Forum. I still have a lot of things to write about the trip away and the Design Forum to come, but one thing at a time.

And thirdly, it has been the opportunity to share part of this journey with friends. One way that is being done is through the 10 o’clock Club. You can join us there too. It is free, and happens every night at 10 pm in your time zone. Post a photograph of where you are and what you are doing onto Twitter at 10 pm using hashtag #10cbr . Share your journey with us. We might not know it at the time, but you could well be documenting part of your own experience throug your own Hero’s Journey there too!

Looking forward to seeing you at the 10 o’clock Club!


Celebrations of Independence

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IMG_0275Papua New Guinea celebrated its 39th year of independence on Tuesday. This is all but a historical footnote in the minds of many Australians, as many of us have forgotten the close association between both countries that began 100 years ago this month when Australia seized the German territory at the commencement of the First World War.

IMG_0277Much has changed since then.

The grand vision of Sir Michael Somare of the opportunity to run their own country has yet to be fully realised with the last two decades chequered with constitutional crisis and at times significant civil unrest.

IMG_0262Extractive industries have become a significant feature of foreign interests in Papua New Guinea since 1975, and corruption has sadly often impacted on the distribution of income.

IMG_0258The country has dropped considerably down in the country ratings of UN Human Development since 1975, and Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop expressed earlier this year how she was troubled that PNG was not likely to meet one of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals before they are due at the end of 2015.

IMG_0283It could be easy to look at PNG and focus only on a grim picture.

IMG_0313What I saw when I was beginning the 10 City Bridge Run in Port Moresby painted a different picture. There were many expressions of national pride, concurrent with alignment with which one of the 32 provinces people originally came from. It is a country with over 840 different language groups, and with just over 7 million people, national unity is an amazing achievement.

IMG_0330Indications is that the country is looking towards good leadership and a bright future. Let’s hope so, because the region needs leadership from Papua New Guinea now.

IMG_0381Enjoy these photos taken of people during Independence.

I’m Back! (to the blog, and from Papua New Guinea)

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A man with his grandson in East New Britain, P...
What is poverty?

I just returned. Both to writing the blog, but also from a near life-changing experience in Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea is a fascinating country. Truly the land of the unexpected. Arguably the most diverse country on earth, in every respect. Also a country which has been raped by years of colonial and neo-colonial intervention.

Papua New Guinea is a country rich in resources. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday quoted Stephen Promnitz who is still involved in mining interests in Papua New Guinea as a chief executive and formerly a young geologist with CRA who later merged with Rio Tinto. The article explained:

The 1988-89 (gold) rush left an impression. “It was the most astounding thing I have ever seen. There was more gold than you could poke a stick at. So much so that I thought I would never be looking for gold again. The locals were shaking gold nuggets from the roots of the grass. Some of the nuggets were the size of goose eggs“.

With so much abundance in resources, why then does PNG now have a near epidemic in HIV (close to sub-Saharan African levels) and the second highest rate of child mortality in Asia Pacific? Why is the average weekly salary for most people around K15 (about AU$4)? Forget US$1.25 per day…

I returned with fresh eyes seeing how child mortality is an important issue, and more than ever before I want you to be involved. I started taking photographs of human bridges while I was in PNG, and will post the link on Flickr here shortly. I deleted a whole bunch of photos accidentally (including some priceless photos of human bridges), which in itself was good food for thought- what did I really value: the photos or the emphasis on reducing infant mortality?

Taking photographs of human bridges was instructive. Approaching it from a Western mindset of order and sound structure just doesn’t work. People have their own ideas of what it means to build a bridge, and it is refreshing to see this human creativity at work, even if the finished project is a little lumpier than the perfect bridge that you might have wanted to see from the other side of the camera lens.

Sorry about the absence from the blog- a lot has taken place over the last month or so since I have been writing. To start, my friend Aaron suggested the focus of the event be squarely placed on the photographs of human bridges- after all, this is where the real work is in this initiative. This meant that no running will occur until 24,000 photographs of human bridges have been collected. This is a collective effort.

Earlier I had intended to start running on 1 March, and so this change meant I had pushed the start date to coincide with the Paris G20 Summit which was then scheduled for June 2011.

This suggestion was followed by news from my friend Mark that the Paris G20 Summit has been shifted to November- the G20 will now only meet once annually. This is in fact good for me. Consequently, the run will now take place across November to highlight to the outcome of the photographs gathered. It will travel through 10 countries, and while I will visit Paris, I don’t intend going to the G20 Summit itself- that money is better spent elsewhere. I intend to be running with other people in each city. It is fresh canvas again.

The timing change is good, not because it gives more time for preparation, but because it gives adequate time to focus on the curating of 24,000 photographs to form a pictorial petition to be given to the G20 leadership ahead of the November Summit. One photo for each child that dies on any given day (using 2008 figures). To reduce the infant mortality rate to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals target requires a further reduction of 10,000 deaths daily every day from the present infant mortality rate which sits are around 21,000 children under five who tragically and needlessly die daily.

Let’s get to work. Good to be back. Join me on this journey- I need your help.