NEKNASI COOPERATIVE: FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

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Like many rural outstations  in Papua New Guinea, Bandong, in the Morobe province  is beautiful and isolated.
To get to Bandong from Lae, you have to  make a four hour  journey on a four wheel drive over rugged terrain.  This is where more than 5000 people live  – scattered in small  hamlets all over the many ridges and plateaus of this mountainous area.   For the few who  live in villages accessible by road, the distance and the road condition continues to be a major challenge.
Pockets of villages seen from Bandong
The statistics that come from  here  are just as bad as those in other rural and remote areas of Papua New Guinea.  It  reflect more than 20 years of government  neglect and isolation. In Bandong and surrounding areas, between 15 and 20  women and children die every year from  birth complications and other preventable diseases.   But those figures  come only  from villages nearest to the road.
Its half past 8 in the morning and Rex Puli, the Community health worker, has  already begun seeing the  first lot of patients. Rex is one of the very few community health workers  who  has chosen to work in Bandong in  long while.  He works in an aid post that  doesn’t have enough and supplies.
Maternal and Infant mortality rate is unacceptably high
The  dispensary contains medicines that come from kits supplied by the Australian Government.  The kits are meant to supplement what should be an ongoing supply  of  medicines from the  Papua New Guinea Government.
But the flow of medical supplies is irregular and getting new stock  from the nearest health center  requires a 12 hour trek on foot to Boana.
After living and working in Bangdong for a year,   Rex agrees that the bad  road condition  is a major contributor to the unacceptably rate of  mother and child deaths. 
The education statistics are no better.   Leah Yalingu, the Bandong Primary School Principal  sees systematic  deficiencies in the education system  that  need to be urgently corrected.
Halimbi Gim – Coffee farmer. A member of the Neknasi Cooperative
Much of the problem stems from poor teacher training and an education inspection system that isn’t working. Illiteracy remains a major concern  and very few students  make it to high school. 
But the  people of  Bandong and other neighboring villages  are resilient and hardworking.   The road that leads to Bandong is an example of their achievements. It  was built  initially without any machinery by farmers using spades and sticks. 
Organically grown  coffee
Later,  each person contributed twenty kina and the communities hired a bulldozer to cut a road through the rugged terrain.
Using existing traditional leadership structures, they banded other – their common bond has been the  coffee they’ve been planting for  over 60 years.
In 2008,   Mong Bungun, an elementary school teacher built on the 60 years of knowledge and expertise and founded the Neknasi Coffee Corporative with the aim of  creating a reliable income source for his people.
The Neknasi cruiser
Halimbi Gim  is one of many farmers who joined the cooperative when it started.  He has more than one thousand coffee  trees on his land.  Through the Neknasi cooperative,  he has been able to build his cash income  and improve his family’s lifestyle.   In the villages  where members of the Neknasi cooperative live, there is a marked difference in the standard of living. 
Mong Bungun – Neknasi Chairman
More and more permanent houses are being built every year – funded by coffee money. Working together  has also  helped to reduce the financial burden of  transportation  on individual farmers.
Today, the Neknasi, cooperative  owns a landcruizer and a large truck that assists farmers to take their coffee to be  milled. In 2010  they were certified by  Fairtrade International.   With assistance from Fairtrade, they’ve been able  get a good price  and  also  tap into a global market for organically grown coffee. 

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RURAL ELECTRIFICATION, A 3G NETWORK AND INTERNET ACCESS

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There are many words to describe the Buang region
There are many words to describe the Buang  region.   Mountainous,   remote,   difficult and beautiful.    Buang   reveals its  true beauty  every morning,  as the sunrise  creeps over the   mountains revealing breathtaking cliffs  and slender waterfalls  that plunge   hundreds of meters into the rivers below. 
         This is a place where the people fix the roads without asking for payment  from the government or the member of parliament or the  local level  government.  It’s a  place that  is being transformed by a collection small projects that  will have massive impacts in the years to come. 
Sam Basil Bulolo MP

“Today we’re able to watch television and use computers and printers,” says  a teacher.  “Its because we have electricity.”

        The Buang rural electrification project  is the brainchild of  the Bulolo MP,  Sam Basil who lives in  his village   a few  kilometers from this location.  He said  the desire  to have   the conveniences  of urban life  all in  in this beautiful local location was one of the things what drove him to  build this project.
        “We want to make Buang the power garden of Bulolo,” Basil says hinting at plans for more power generation that will feed electricity into the existing PNG Power grid that supplies Lae city.
        In the villages, each house has three light bulbs as well  power points.  It looks like a small  change but  electricity will cut down the amount of firewood  that women and children have to carry every day.   It will reduce  the amount of work women  do in terms of  cooking and washing. 
        Children will be able to study at night.  Education  is expected to  progress in leaps and bounds as teachers and students gradually discover  a vast store of knowledge accessible  via the internet.
Rural electrification changing lives
        The power project  adds to  several earlier projects have  happened here.  Today,  People here have access to a 3G mobile  network.  They watch the Papua New Guinea’s two free-to-air  TV stations without any interruption.  They  no longer need a portable generator set to charge their batteries.  And the fuel costs per household  has been slashed by 3 quarters.
        A partnership between the people of Bunag and a Chinese company is expected to be finalized soon.   The Chinese have brought their expertise and their money to build a hydro power station.  The Bunag people – who  own the land and resources  – will be part owners in a venture that will sell electricity to PNG power.
       But one major challenge remains.  The road that links Buang to the provincial capital   still needs a lot more work.    In the next few months  this road will continue to be upgraded. Sam Basil is talking with the Huon Gulf MP, Ross Seymore to have a road link from Bulolo to Salamaua as  well as  well as an extension of the rural electrification program.