Investing in a quality water tank is a good choice

While PNG, as a whole, is often seen as a place abundant in clean water, access to it can be difficult at times. Difficulty in accessing good water sources place many people at risk of water, sanitation and hygiene related issues. The PNG Government’s WASH Policy 2015 – 2030 indicates that 89 per cent of people in urban areas and 33 percent in rural areas have access to safe water while 57 percent of urban dwellers and only 13 percent of the rural population have access to basic sanitation.

So we too, in rural areas have access issues. Take for example, my parents in Manus. My parents used to live in a place in the village where they had to walk a distance to collect fresh water. Liap village is on the north coast of Manus island. It is a coastal village with most houses lining up alongside the beach. Sometimes, getting access to fresh water can be a bit difficult on the coastline especially during dry season. There are rivers and creeks but one has to go up some way to the head of the water source to get clean and fresh water.

Taking ownership and investing in a process of acquiring and maintaining good water access often falls onto individuals or families rather than the government, especially in rural areas of PNG. For example, to assist my parents with their fresh water needs, a water storage item close to the house would suit them. In my first year of formal employment, I had set aside enough money to buy a tank. I can’t really recall the amount but it was my first significant investment back to my parents. It was, and is still, a 1000 litre Tuffa tank that I bought from Lae’s manufacturing company, KK Kingston.

I worked in Lae and bought the tank in Lae. After buying the tank, I needed to figure out how to transport it from Lae, Morobe Province, to Lorengau in Manus, a journey of around 500 kilometers over the Bismarck Sea. I finally placed the tank on a Lutheran Shipping vessel and shipped it to Lorengau, Manus. Once it arrived there, it was then loaded onto an outboard motor for an hour on the northern coast line to Andru Point, Liap village. Once it arrived there, my parents built a small cement base and then put the tank on top, connected a gutter on the roof and downpipes to the tank.

Water tanks are a part of the solution to acquiring and maintaining good water access. The tank made my parents’ lives easier. Today, over 15 years later, this tank is still with me. My parents moved to our new area in the village so we transported the tank to our new place. We ended up rebuilding our house and starting out again. As I fix the family house and reset the tank stand next to our house in the village, I think about why we make personal investments. I have made investments of time, money, energy and emotions into people, equipment, machinery and places over the years.

Some investments, like this tank, I actually see it as a quality investment because over time it has provided water to not only my parents but those who are our neighbors as well. Its durability too makes this a worthy investment for me. It was difficult and costly to buy the tank in Lae and bring it all the way to my village in Manus, but it has been worth it as the benefits have outweighed the costs over time.

Me and my tank!
The Tuffa tank under the house. I’m still deciding which corner of the house I should stand this tank.

So invest in a water tank for your family today and help reduce water, sanitation and hygiene issues in our communities.

Stumbling onto a delicious fortified food in Lorengau

Recently, I came to know of a biscuit known as the Start Smart Breakfast Biscuit. I was in Lorengau town and went to the shop located at the old Manus Sports Club which is at the back of the Habourside Hotel. As I was looking through the shelves for biscuits, I saw this bright yellow but small packet of biscuit. It cost K1.20 for one packet. It had, on its label, ‘fortified with essential vitamins’ which I saw was Vitamin A, B6 and B12.

The small packet of biscuit fits snugly into the palm of my hand

Now this biscuit is an example of a fortified food. A fortified food is a food that is enriched by adding necessary vitamins into the food so that certain people in the general population can have access to this very important Vitamins. For example, Goiter, which is the irregular growth of the thyroid gland, comes from a lack of iodine in the body. To combat this problem, researchers and public health officials decided that when table salt is produced in a factory, iodine is added so that when the general population has access to this iodized salt, it reduces the number of people who may suffer from goiter. Another example is that of rice fortification where the process of adding micronutrients like iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 can increase the nutritional value of rice and prevent anemia, which is a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues.

Now for the smart biscuits, I noticed that it was fortified with Vitamin A. In PNG vitamin A is given through immunisation clinics. However, once the immunisation schedule has completed, many children tend not to attend well baby clinics, which reduces the uptake of vitamin A supplementation. Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) is associated with impaired vision, permanent loss of sight, and an increased risk of infection and death from infectious diseases, including measles that can persist throughout the lifecycle. VAD is severe problem among children 6 – 59 months. The prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in children aged 6 – 59 months is 25.6%, which is a considered severe public health problem. The only other data available for VAD is among non-pregnant women aged 15 – 49 years where the prevalence of VAD is 0.7% (National Department of Health 2005).

So this packet has 8 small square shaped biscuits and they are very sweet. I later found out that this shop at the old Manus Sports Club is the only shop in Lorengau and Manus that sells this product. This biscuit is produced in the country by Paradise Foods Limited. I am not sure if K1.20 is the same price everywhere around the country but it seems to be a good price for such a fortified food. It is essential that young growing children have access to these foods such as this Start Smart Biscuits.

The Papua New Guinea National Nutrition Policy 2016-2026 supports the fortification of foods in our country. However, the lack of strong research into food and nutrition is still lacking in this country and enforcement of such policies are still lacking. I also hope that those who are elected into PNG’s next parliament focus on leading appropriate national agencies in implementing key strategies found in the national policy. Its even sadder to know that none of our universities have a specific Diploma or Bachelor or Postgraduate program in Nutrition or Dietetics including the management of nutrition programs!

Try this fortified food today!

The life we live

Travelling on a outboard motor to Lorengau with other passengers

This is the life we live.

Travelling by boat from the village to Lorengau takes about 45 minutes but is a costly exercise. This one way trip costs the boat owner between K90 to K120 just to buy fuel. If he takes passengers, it reduces his burden. All of us, as passengers on the boat, have to fork out K20 individually for the one way trip into town. Then we put up another K20 for the trip back home in the afternoon. Other Manusians from villages much further away from Lorengau just cannot afford to have passenger travel. It’s just not economical. One would have to pay K50 or even K100 for a one way trip into Lorengau. Some places that are 2 hours from Lorengau cost a boat owner K500 for a one way trip into town.

Villages much further away from Lorengau have a high fuel burden.

So how do those who are far away, travel in to Lorengau? The villagers either wait until a businessman or government worker (a teacher or health worker) wants to travel into town and then they can contribute fuel (a 4 litre costs around K30) so they can travel or when a relative goes into town, everybody gives their shopping list, letters and request to that one person. Other times when there are movements of large groups of people such as school term breaks, customary obligations or deaths, these events give rise to travel. Apart from these events, it is quite difficult to travel due to the high cost of travel.

This fuel burden or travel cost then trickles down to affect everyday living. When fuel costs are high, people don’t move. The supply of food items decreases and the demand increases leading to increasing costs of these items. Other things like essential medicines are delayed and even a reduction in the cash flow in the village, etc. Life, in general becomes difficult. How do Manusians counter this burden? Like what they have been doing for years – they live off the land. The hunt, gather, plant, harvest, fish and work in groups to meet their basic needs. But that lifestyle too has its limitations as activities in living off the land have cost components as well. For example, a man may decide to make his garden bigger but he needs a better file for his knife. Another way, is the practice of remittances. Many Manusians living outside of the province, send money back to their relatives at home.

Manus is often seen a ‘beautiful place’ physically but the high fuel burden contributes to poor access to services such as health and education.

Will this fuel burden slow down in the future? It seems unlikely. External national forces continue to work in such a way as to increase the cost of fuel rather than decrease it. For instance, COVID-19 drove up prices and limited trade at the local level. The country lost money through the UBS loan scheme and even corruption and mismanagement in national government departments have contributed to hindering progress. But is it all doom and gloom in the future? I hope not because when problems arise, innovation arises as well. I hope the answer to the problem lies in electric rechargeable motors – ones that don’t use non-renewable fossil fuels but those that rely on solar energy. Electric cars are already a reality and soon, I’m hoping, it will be electric outboard motors.

In the meantime, for us Manusians, this is the life we live….

Beautiful mornings on the north coast

Sometimes when we wake up in the morning, we are already thinking ahead of the plans we have to carry out and the people we need to meet. But when it is very early in the morning, you just have to step back a bit and appreciate what is around you.

Yes we have problems but we are also thankful of where we live. When I walked down to the beach ( I live up in the mountains) to look for a boat to travel into Lorengau, I couldn’t help but notice the morning sun as it rose from the east of Manus

Standing at Madawo Esio, in Liap, I look eastwards as the sun rises on the east of Manus province.

I looked up and saw a fisherman trawling for small fish, most probably ‘mamau’ or ‘mas’ – those small silvery fish that zip to and fro along the sand on the sea floor. He paddled fast with his string in the water. As he cut the morning waters with his outrigger canoe, he pauses paddling and lets the wooden canoe slide along. He quickly tugged at the string behind him, then pulling the string right past him in a swinging motion, checking to seek if a fish had latched onto his hook. When he notices no fish has struck, he releases the string and quickly paddles again repeating the process. Before long, he will have ten or fifteen of these small fish then he will retire back to his house to have breakfast. As I walk along the beach, some more men are heading out to sea to join the first person in the sea bay.

Yes this is one part of the morning activities in Liap village on the north coast of Manus. The land and the sea continues to feed us and we appreciate the place where we are born into, live and work. It is not pretty at times but it is where we call home. It is the place where we will eventually die and be buried here. It is our home. It is where the sun rises so beautifully in the east and a village rises.

Enjoying the process in the work

Life in the village, especially those in rural and remote settings, can be a fun place to visit especially for tourists or for people who just come for the holidays. But for people who live there, it can be a struggle at times. Apart from poor access issues to good social services like heath, education and communication, villagers in Manus still have to struggle to get by. Most often, you have to physically exert yourself so that the basic needs of life can be satisfied.

Take for example, having fish to eat to supplement your diet of mostly carbohydrates such as cassava, sago, sweet potato, bananas, yams, taro and a little bit of greens . The process starts with making a canoe and goes through many stages before a canoe is finished and ready for sailing over the sea to the place where you can catch fish. It can take days, weeks or months to even select, carve, tighten, fix, pull and put together a decent canoe fit enough to pass over water.

Carving a canoe in the inland of Manus Island
My brother uses a hacking tool to chip away at the hull of the canoe

But to say that going through the process of making a canoe is tiring and difficult in order to catch a fish, even true? I guess it depends on the way you look at it. Some people enjoy the life that comes with the process of doing things. It may take several days or months but it may not be the work at all that is important when making the canoe. It is family connections, the tea drinking, the long stories in between, the learning that takes place, etc. All these things happen as the process of work i.e. making a canoe takes place.

Shaping a canoe at the beginning in the bushes of Kurti language group area in Manus Province.
Its a work in progress but something he enjoys doing

My small brother has been shaping a canoe from a tree he felled behind the house. This tree is very light but durable. Its easy to carve but it is taking time to develop. I sit beside him and talk to him while he works – asking questions about why he is doing this, how he intends to bring it down to the seaside since we are up on the mountains. He chats while his mind is on the work. He stops, looks at the angles, then continues chipping away. He uses an axe and then uses a hacking tool like a chisel but circular. Both are metal tools but represent what our people in the past have used to carve the canoe. We are both near a creek as he continues doing his work. He will shape the canoe and then after a few weeks, he will, with a group of his friends or family carry this down to the beach. It is around two hours walk down to the coast. Once there he will continue further shaping it, put the outrigger and carve the paddles.

Kingston Namun on Manus Island
Why not a selfie while at work!

Life is in the process. We work but we also have to find enjoyment in the work that we do. Otherwise what is the point of grinding away at work while we loose ourselves in the process?

Message in a bottle: From the Bismarck Sea to the Solomon Sea!

Around December in 2004, I had boarded a Lutheran Shipping vessel from Lae and travelled to Manus. I am not sure which ship it was but it definitely was either MV Manemba or MV Umboi which I am sure many people who travel by ship know. From Lae, Morobe Province, it takes one full day and two nights on the open sea before we land in Loregnau town, Manus Province. As is the custom when travelling on long trips over the sea, we take lots of fresh fruits, home cooked meals and lots of water to keep our stay on these cargo ships as homely as possible.

Anyway, we left the Lae port, Voco Point, at around 5pm and began the journey. By 10pm people like myself were already sound asleep. I woke up at around 5am to the sound of the sailors pulling in yellow fin tuna and mackerel. During the day I had nothing to do but play cards and tell stories with whoever I met on the ship. Besides, the majority of people on the ship were Manusians so it wasn’t hard finding people who liked to talk…lol

At around midday, we were heading full steam ahead. The sea was calm, the wind was slight and as far as the eye could see, there was no sign of land in all directions. After I had eaten salty biscuits and drunk a 500ml coca cola, I decided to try sending a letter in a bottle. I think I was inspired by a story that in the 1700s, a Japanese crew of 44, were shipwrecked and marooned on a small Island in the South Pacific. The captain scratched details of their story and fate onto chips of wood and put them into a bottle. The bottle was found 150 years later on the shoreline of Japan, reportedly, close to where the sailors had grew up.

Well I wrote my name and postal address on the white label of the Coca Cola bottle and said that whoever found it should write to me. In the middle of the Bismarck Sea, I threw the plastic bottle with the small note inside. I went home for the holidays in Manus then came back to Lae. It was the year 2005 and I was working away when early in March that year, I received a letter. And here is the exact letter that was written….

The letter that I received in Lae Post Office in 2005.
The actual letter from Andrew in Poroporo village
This pink line and then the white line respresent how I believe the plastic bottle travelled in the middle of the Bismarck Sea to the Solomon Sea to reach Poroporo village.


The coke plastic bottle with my note inside had reached Poroporo village at the tip of the Choiseul Province in the Solomon Islands. It had gone international! WOW!!!!

It was picked up by a Mr. Andrew Silukana of Poroporo village just across the Papua New Guinea border! It had taken almost two months from when I first threw the bottle in the middle of the Bismarck to when Andrew picked it up in his village. I don’t know how it travelled there but my assumption is that it must have travelled past the gap between Manus and New Ireland or between East New Britain and New Ireland and then the strong tides of the Pacific Ocean travelling south must have pushed it down past the Autonomous Region of Bougainville right through to the tip of Choiseul province where Poroporo village is.
On that same day I quickly wrote a letter back to him on the address he had provided. But sadly, to this day I haven’t received a reply.

Em tasol!

Lopoki Inc begins discussions with NARI

Lopoki Inc. had the privilege to meet and talk to scientists from the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) located at 10 mile outside Lae city last week.

The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) is Papua New Guinea’s premier publicly funded statutory research organization that has been conducting applied and development oriented research on food crops, emerging food and cash crops, livestock and resource management issues. NARI was established by an Act of Parliament in July 1996 and this saw the organization become the peak body in Papua New Guinea, providing technical, analytical and diagnostic services and up-to-date information on the agricultural sector. They have regional coordination centres in Momase (Bubia and Labu), Highlands (Aiyura and Tambul), Islands (Kerevat) and Southern (Laloki) and their emphasis is on the country’s smallholder semi subsistence farmers.

I’m standing infront of the gate leading to one of their agricultural sites at 10 mile, Bubia, just outside Lae.

Lopoki Inc. visited their Momase Regional office just outside Lae city at Bubia, 10 mile. Lopoki visited NARI to gain information for a potential future collaboration between NARI and Lopoki Inc.’s work in Manus particularly around agriculture. This is because NARI’s focus areas are on key domains such as seed systems, feeding systems, bio-agro ecosystems, soil management, climate change, marketing systems, cross cutting issues and farm mechanization. These are really the key areas of agricultural work that Lopoki Inc. believes need to be effectively mainstreamed into its rural agriculture work in Manus thus the visit to NARI seeking a partnership. In particular, Lopoki Inc. met with personnel from NARI to briefly discuss the possibility of farmer training/mentoring in the Pomotu Ndrehet Kurti Andra (PNKA) local level government area in Manus. The discussion also touched on possible food crop varieties for cultivation in PNKA villages.

Some of the informational materials given by the NARI team
The Dr. Ghodake National Biotechnology Centre
Just about to entre the Dr. Ghodake Building before the brief meeting

While this first visit was for information and finding the possibility for collaboration, Lopoki Inc. was indeed grateful to NARI personnel that took valuable time out from their work to meet with us. Lopoki Inc. thanks the Information Communications Associate Mr. Samuel Toposona who facilitated the arrangement for the meet at Bubia. In our roundtable discussion were Livestock Principal Scientist Dr. Michael Dom, Crop Team Leader Jeffrey Waki and Research Associate-Plant Genetic Resources Cecily Walters.

We all pose after the meeting. From Left: Livestock Principal Scientist Dr. Michael Dom. Next to him is myself with my daughter who came along with me. Beside us is Crop Team Leader Jeffrey Waki and (far right) Research Associate-Plant Genetic Resources Cecily Walters.

We thank the NARI scientists for their time and look forward to a fruitful collaboration in 2022.

If you are interested in the work NARI does in Papua New Guinea, you can visit their website: https://www.nari.org.pg/

Sharing along the highlands highway

One male passenger from the Southern Highlands gave me a piece of warm baked kaukau and a female passenger from Eastern Highlands gave me a bunch of roasted peanuts. For just a few hours, we tell of our lives to others and they in turn tell of theirs too. It seems that beneath the veil of our cultural differences, the three of us are just humans that struggle against the grind and pressures of the modern PNG.

The three of us were passengers on a 25 seater bus travelling along the highlands highway. We had boarded the ‘EJ Tisa’ bus service at Goroka township. He was a teacher who had just graduated two years ago from a teachers college and was posted along one of the Yonki dam villages. She was a local from the Kainantu District going to visit family in Lae.

We talked about this and that, price of goods and services and life that we all were living in the country today. It seems that our struggles are no different even through we were from vastly different parts of the country. We see poor patterns of service delivery among mandated government services such as hospitals and schools and suffer from countrymen and women who look down on us when we use services such as banks and shipping companies. We laughed at the irony that the two service providers who treat you just as you are, are buai sellers and public bus services!

Next time when you travel on a public motor vehicle along the highlands highway, make small talk with your fellow passengers. You’ll never know what you’ll learn along the way!

A hospital from a distant memory

Goroka holds so much childhood memories for me.

One particular place that means so much to me is the Goroka Base Hospital. This is where I got my first malaria treatment, broke my arm while playing in the hospital premises, watched television for the first time which was a video of a preacher named ‘Jimmy Swaggart’ and many other memories too. My mother worked as a nurse at this hospital so some days I would spend hours just wondering through the whole hospital and its surrounding areas while she worked there. It was a quaint little hospital serving the township population. The hospital was built in 1969.

This used to the central car park area of the hospital and the entrance to the hospital.
I remember walking up these cement pathway as a child from the ground floor to the hospital wings one level up.
The older parts of the hospital still maintain the same shape as I had last seen them.

Now I come back after all these years and the hospital buildings have changed in part but at the same time, much still remained the same as well. In the 1980s, Goroka town was the prettiest town in the Pacific and its hospital was, in my opinion, the best in the country. The hospital served much of its around 280,000 people back then in the 80’s but now maybe close to an estimated 600,000 population. Much of the brick walls and cement floor in the older parts of the building still remain but now there are many inclusions and the buildings have a modern touch to it. I’m really impressed with the new buildings. The former Minister of Health, in 2019, Mr. Elias Kavapore put the cost of new buildings at K200 million.

Some newer parts of the hospital looking from the carpark to the outpatient area.
The outpatient area is upstairs
One of the new wings of the hospital. It looks impressive!
The carpark area

I didn’t have the opportunity to go inside and see the inside of the new buildings but I know they would be awesome. As the former health minister said in 2019, “As the new diagnostic centre, Goroka has seven fully-equipped operating theatres that are at international standard and second to none in the country”!!

So yes, that’s just a little visit back down memory lane. See you all soon!

Need new glasses? A welcome sight in Goroka

Like many Papua New Guineans, I too, suffer from poor eyesight, in particular, short-sightedness (myopia). This means that when I see objects or people that are far away from me, they are blurry. My eyes cant make them out from a distance. To correct this, one can purchase glasses after doing proper eye tests with a qualified optometrist. The consultation will cost you but the expensive items are the glass frames and lens.

Over the years, I have spent quite a lot of money to purchase specific frames and lens for my glasses. Different vendors will have their own price and catalogue of glasses. Earlier this year I enquired at a private eye care company/optometrist operating in an urban area. In their stock, they begin all their frame prices at K650 while the lens may go up to K800 particularly for my lens strength. There are many organizations, some privately owned companies or cross country charity organisations or even church based NGOs that provide eye care across the country. Each has their own price depending on factors such as quality of frames, strength of lens, cost of doing business, number of people in need, estimation of affordability, whether optical care is part of rehabilitation or not, negative perceptions among different groups of people, etc. But all of them, from my experience, will provide an eye test and give information on the necessary glasses and lens to offer. Some eye tests are basic while others require much greater attention.

When visiting Goroka, the capital of Eastern Highlands Province, I came across the Callan Optical Service. Their office is right alongside the Highlands Highway opposite the airport.

The notice next to the entrance of the building showing the services provided and the types of work they carry out at the facility.

Their service and quality of care is top notch! As soon as I entered their small office space, Mr. Kotis Awaso, the refractionist and optical technician greeted me.

Kotis Awaso is ever ready to help me choose my frames
The frames are on display.

Since I knew my lens strength measurement, he invited me in to the area where the frames were on display. At the Callan Optical Service, both the frames and lens together cost K200. I spent the next ten minutes trying on the frames that I liked. Once I chose one, I paid for it and they started cutting the lens. Within 30 minutes I received my new pair of glasses! It was indeed a welcome sight in Goroka!

My completely new glasses with the tinted lens cut within 30 minutes.

While some might still say that K200 is still a lot of money to fork out for a pair of glasses, I would say otherwise. For the quality of frames and lenses, and the work required to cut the lens for the frames in 30 minutes, this is something you dont get often almost anywhere in this country. If I were to pay these elsewhere in places like Lae, Port Moresby or even places where I have gone to do studies such as Brisbane and Perth in Australia (yes I have done tests and got lens/frames in these two cities), this is the best cost effective option for me. Even in places like Australia, you would definitely need health insurance cover to pay for prescription glasses as it can be quite expensive.

If you are ever in Goroka and want to have your eyes checked/tested or look for new glasses, then visit the Callan Optical Service right in the heart of Goroka town, just along the Highlands Highway road.