Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Newsletter item
Growing up in Papua New Guinea

Growing Up In Cities International
In 1998, UNESCO Apia co-organized the Pacific Youth Forum in Brisbane, Australia, as part of UNESCO’s worldwide effort towards addressing the challenges facing young people around the globe. Participants at the Forum came from Samoa, Niue, the Cook Islands, and 10 other Pacific Island countries. While UNESCO works with a very broad mandate – spanning activities as diverse as scientific research, press freedom, and special needs education, the particular needs of youth are addressed across all of these.

 In this issue, we look at how urban youth in a Pacific Island country, living under often very difficult circumstances, are able to take action towards addressing the environmental and social problems confronting them in their everyday lives.  

 Port Moresby, the Papua New Guinean capital, has over its recent years of rapid growth engulfed numerous villages, the present-day “urban villages”. In these neighbourhoods, thousands of people coexist and make their living. The physical structures of the urban village’s neighbourhoods form the backdrop of moments of caring, romance, daily duties, and of play and games; but also of hardship, poverty, disease, despair and crime. How does the urban environment influence and shape the communities inhabiting it – and how can communities take an active role in assessing and changing their environment for the better? In November 1999, these questions were asked of participants at a UNESCO GUIC (Growing Up in Cities) and CSI (Coastal Regions and Small Islands) workshop in Port Moresby.

Attending the workshop were a broad range of actors with influence on Port Moresby’s urban environment: members of parliament, church groups, university researchers, the National Youth Service, as well as international organizations. Most importantly, about 50 young people from all over the National Capital District, as well as the other regions of Papua New Guinea were present at the event. As the future adult generation of Papua New Guinea’s urban centres, the country’s youth have the biggest say in defining the future its cities.  Acting as facilitators were Dr. Karen Malone, Asia-Pacific Director of GUIC, Monash University, Australia; Mr. Haraka Gaudi of the UNESCO CSI Papua New Guinea Project; and Mr. Lindsay Hasluck of Deakin University, Australia.

The situation for the inhabitants of Hanuabada is particularly difficult. Hanuabada is a Motu-Koita village, part of the original settlements of the area that is now the rapidly expanding greater Port Moresby urban sprawl. The location of the Motu-Koita villages within an ever-growing urban area has exacerbated the loss of traditional practices that can serve to bind a community together. Furthermore, the proximity of urban temptations have lead many Motu-Koita youths into crime and substance abuse, further accelerating the decline of social cohesion in the urban villages.

At the core of the workshop was a research visit to the urban village of Hanuabada. Activities undertaken during this visit included supporting the young people of Hanuabada in developing cognitive maps of their neighbourhood, conducting interviews and discussions; and undertaking individual and group guided tours of the village with local youths. On the tours, the youths showcased favourite and significant places in the village, places in which they felt unsafe, and places in which they undertake various activities (their home, friends’ places, places they play, and so forth).  Each group carried with it a disposable camera for the recording of the tour experiences.

Image 1: Group of young women working on their 
drawings and interview data

On the final day of the workshop, young people from Hanuabada attended the workshop to join in the compiling and analysis of fieldwork data. The youths were invited to share with all participants their experiences of growing up in an urban village. All participants and facilitators shared in discussions on gender issues, as well as recurring themes and patterns of life in the urban village.

What was then the outcome of this workshop? This can be viewed on two levels. First, there were direct outcomes, such as the formulation and presentation to the National Government of a Papua New Guinean Youth Declaration, outlining the needs and challenges facing the country’s youth today, and asking for increased recognition from government agencies. Just as significant were the process-oriented results: By visiting and actively taking part in the everyday lives of the young people of the urban village, government officials, aid organization representatives, and religious leaders were given a first-hand impression of both the hardships and joys of living in an urban village. By working with the youths, the same leaders were able to perceive of the youths as human beings, rather than as either troublemakers or victims of circumstance.

Image 2: One of the male participants’ map of the village

Reciprocally, the youths gained the experience of rethinking their everyday lives, were encouraged to consider those aspects of life normally taken for granted or considered unchangeable. Through seeing their lives in such an analytical context, the youths experienced their power to influence their physical and human environment through cooperation. They also learned that there are ways of addressing the state of affairs through a number of institutions, and that there are people outside their community who care about their lives. 

Firsthand experience of another person’s existence is a significant step towards understanding that person – and a significant step towards creating those conditions for peaceful coexistence that UNESCO was set up bring about.

By Hans Thulstrup in "The UN in Samoa", 25 June 2000

Photos: Dr. Karen Malone

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