By Bryan Cussen

Hope in the Midst of PNG Poverty

December 3rd, 2010

Valesi Avosa is a retired woman (far left) who is busier than ever she was in her working career.  After many years as Principal of a business college in Port Moresby, she wound up her career in 2003.  After a short break, Valesi felt drawn by her faith to reach out to women in a squatter settlement near her house and offer them some opportunities to learn livelihood skills.  She was touched by the number of women she met who were experiencing hardship such as family problems, domestic violence, homelessness, and a lack of money to send their children to school.

Valesi and a good friend, called Alice Pinu, began holding classes at their homes and under the trees in the settlement, teaching women how to sell garden produce or craft work at markets, how to set up simple road side stalls, how to do basic bookkeeping. Woven through these short courses were also sessions on family health, HIV awareness and parenting issues.  Above all, Valesi and Alice offered the women friendship and hope.

They soon found themselves in demand and their work spread to other settlements.  By 2004 things had grown to the extent that they felt it was time to register themselves as a Community Based Organisation.  They chose the name Mother and Child Support (MCS).

They continued to offer courses in people’s homes, in outdoor areas and in church halls.  By early 2009 there were 525 women registered with MCS to be part of its programs.

It was in that year that MCS came to the attention of the United Church.  On a trip to Moresby our colleague Bena Seta of UCPNG introduced me to Valesi and Alice and I went with them to visit some of the settlements and the women leaders.  It didn’t take me long to see the value of their work and I suggested that, through the Church Partnership Program, we work with our Anglican friends to support MCS.  The Anglicans took this up readily and we began the support in mid-2009.  Since then MCS has been able to extend its training courses and set up a centre where women can come to share and learn and, if necessary, take time out from difficult home situations.  There are now MCS groups in 13 sites in three settlements and they have 736 registered members.

Just as important as the formal events of this project is the informal time women spend with each other and the connections they are building through MCS membership.  In MCS they are finding a community of people in similar circumstances with whom they can share their daily challenges, their aspirations and their successes.  The support and confidence this gives the women is a vital part of the steps they are taking in building sustainable livelihoods.

I visited the MCS centre last week and spent time with a wonderful group of seven young women, children of the mothers who have been the main focus of outreach.  They call themselves the Pioneer Sparrows. The Sparrows have been unable to complete school because their parents could not afford the fees.  At MCS they have been learning basic secretarial skills.  I was pleased, on behalf of UnitingWorld, to offer them a number of scholarships so that they could go on to business college.

Alice has had to take time out due to some family circumstances, but Valesi continues to offer leadership and a warm heart to these hundreds of women.  From nothing she has created an inspiring ministry.

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One Response to “Hope in the Midst of PNG Poverty”

  1. Bron Bron says:

    I’ve met some of these women and stood in one of their make shift classrooms. Truly inspiring stuff and the essence of what development should be about!

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in these blogs are those of their authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UnitingWorld or the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia