Two years ago, only 12 rural airstrips in Western Province were operational owing to the lack of maintenance. Already more than 30 are operational and by year-end, over 50 will have been refurbished. By early 2021, all 77 should be fully functional with systems and funding in place to keep them that way.
Our two access initiatives (telecommunications and airstrips), will facilitate the rebuilding of services in remote communities, and just as importantly, to provide the capability to leap-frog traditional methods of delivering health, education and financial services throughout the province.
The tranquil waterways around Balimo in the Western Province are the main transport corridors with dugout canoes and dinghies being the most popular vessel of choice. Uladu village is a 30-minute paddle by canoe (or 10-15 minutes in a motorised dinghy) to the landing area in town. This village is known for making beautiful cane furniture, but over recent years, they struggled to find a market for these products, other than the occasional one-off order from around the local area.
The man who keeps this skill alive within the village is Mr. Saida Stiggy Lalela. He learnt to make cane furniture from his father and brothers when he was 22 years old and continued to make furniture for the past 38 years.
Early last year, PNG Sustainable Development Program Limited (SDP) moved into Balimo working with the Kokoda Track Foundation to develop the Balimo campus with its start-up of the FODE program, and to also prepare for the launch of its proof-of-concept Aerial Health Patrols (AHP) that reaches out to remote communities serviced by rural airstrips.
SDP’s Chief Program’s Officer, Susan Allen came across a few old pieces of this carefully crafted cane furniture – a small stool here, a little table over there – whilst working on SDP Balimo-based projects. She asked where this furniture had come from; and if a message could be sent to the village so she could speak to the person in charge.
She was put in contact with Saida and from the first day a firm friendship was formed.
“Saida is a lovely man. What he does in his community is amazing,” said Susan. “He is passing the skill to the younger generation and the regular SDP orders are providing a much-needed in-situ training opportunity, with many people in the village involved.”
Saida’s father, who has limited work capacity now, assists with the cleaning and lashing together parts of the process.