When The Dead Give Us An Opportunity

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Remembrance Day has come and gone and those with grandparents or even great grandparents, most of them having passed on, paid tribute on 23 July 2019 for the enormous service they provided to this country we call Papua New Guinea.

While some marched on to Ela Beach in the early hours of a rather cold Port Moresby morning, others headed off to Badihagwa Cemetery, just outside the village of Hanuabada, to pay their respects to loved ones who served the country during the War years.

There’s a customary belief among many PNG communities that the dead, despite no longer being around us physically, remain with us spiritually and in their own way offer opportunities to improve our livelihood.

That can’t be far from the truth if a recent visit to the Badihagwa Cemetery is any indication.

The cemetery despite its neglect has historical significance.

A decade or two ago, a walk around the cemetery would been a like a walk through the Yellow Pages with names like Douglas, Musgrave, Lawes all engraved and appearing prominently on their respective headstones.

Sadly, these names and the headstones themselves were no longer visible and where those headstones are and how they were removed is anyone’s guess.

But the lack of maintenance of the cemetery is a “grave” concern indeed.

Litter is everywhere.  Broken beer bottles, food items, plastic bags and heaps of it are scattered all around.  Some of the graves have broken beer bottles on them which could indicate that this once respected public place for the dead is now a drinking place for the living.  This act of neglect and disrespect is utterly disappointing.

Perhaps an even worse sight to see are headstones, paid by loved ones for the dead, have graffiti on them – a truly despicable act.

Why it has come to this is quite simple – lack of care by the public and neglect by authorities.

But here in lies an opportunity, particularly, for those living in the surrounding areas and the village of Hanuabada.

The number of unemployed has escalated, no one has a clue of it.  All we can say is – a lot.  The number of people producing and consuming homebrew has escalated too.  All we can is – a lot!

With these issues in mind, social problems are following suite and that’s unsurprising considering these activities and issues go hand in hand.

It is, like the village name itself, a BIG concern and something must be done immediately because it is gradually, if not already, destroying an integral character of the Motu and Koitabu society – respect for the elders.

While authorities are creating positive developments in education, the unemployment and homebrew issue requires immediate attention.  Obviously, results can’t be expected overnight but something must be seen to be done or else the whole family and community structure upon which the Motu Koitabu and generally Papua New Guinea social structure is built on will be gone forever.

Perhaps an involving the unemployed or those considering themselves “self-employed” selling  homebrew could be given an opportunity to assist in the maintenance of the cemetery in return for cash in their pockets.  After all, the purpose of selling home-brew is to sustain a livelihood despite engaging in this illegal activity but then what else is there if there are no tangible economic opportunities available to them?

One does not need a certificate or degree for cutting grass, collecting rubbish or removing graffiti off the headstones.

It is this lack of economic activity that drives the unemployed to illegal activities or any activity that often puts their lives and that of others at great risk.

Essentially, what is required now is to provide an economic activity that is not only legal but sustainable too so that the youth can have a more meaningful purpose to live – at least for the short term while major economic projects are being planned and developed.  These economic projects may not possibly come to fruition during the lives of these unemployed.  They may well be long term projects but that does not necessarily mean the unemployed should be shifted to the side for the time being.  We can’t ignore them.

If we can at least provide a solution to this critical problem, not only are we providing them an economic activity to sustain their livelihood, there is a possibility of a far wider social impact.  One that can result in a positive workmanship among the once unemployed, care and respect for the community and most importantly for themselves and their family.