World AIDS Day in Madang – 2008

No Gravatar

Despite the most dreadful all-day wet misery that I’ve seen for a long time, a huge group of people turned out for Madang’s participation in World AIDS Day for 2008.

I was but a humble journalist at this event – camera in hand. I thank Heather for providing the details and selecting the appropriate photos:

THIS FROM: Dr. Heather Young-Leslie

World AIDS Day in Madang (Dec. 1, 2008) was uncharacteristically wet and grey: Rain drizzled all day, almost as if the sky was crying in solidarity with those affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The rain presented challenges, but didn’t dampen the spirits of those assembled to mark the day. Everything began with a parade. Floats and marchers representing NGOs such as Save the Children, Volunteer Services Overseas and the Red Cross, local schools including the Maritime College and the Madang Teachers College, and businesses such as Lae Builders. The Disabled Association, the Creative Self-Help Centre and both Provincial and Urban Councils of Women were also active partners in the events of the day. Tingim Laip organized a musical lyrics contest and Bates Oval in the centre of town was filled with umbrella’d people, visiting displays and listening to the music and speeches.

For Madang’s Prov. AIDS Committee Secretariat, the highlight of the day was the Dedication Ceremony for the new HIV Information & Resource Centre. As Matricia Mari, the HIV Response Coordinator for Madang said in her speech, making the Resource Centre a reality has been a truly cooperative affair: The funding came from the Global Fund and Big Lottery Fund, based on a proposal written by VSO. It was built by Lae Builder. The soil for the garden was provided by Shorncliff, and the river stones used to mark the boundaries and pathways were provided by Amri Transport. MPACS staff & volunteers did the landscaping and planted the garden. The day before the Dedication Ceremony, men from Yabob village, along with volunteer condom distributors calling themselves HEPRAI (“Help Reduce AIDS”) appeared with all sorts of bush materials. They decorated the inside and outside in traditional Yabob-style. You can see the long poles constructed of bamboo, croton leaves, and banana stalk in the first photo (They did an equally impressive job on the inside of the Resource Centre).

Madang Prov. AIDS Committee Secretariat Office, decorated in traditional Yabob style

Madang Prov. AIDS Committee Secretariat Office, decorated in traditional Yabob style

As to be expected, the Dedication Ceremony featured speeches. Matricia Mari, HIV Response Coordinator, spoke of her intention that the Resource Centre be open to anyone who wants to come & learn about HIV. She invoked “the Spirit of the Centre”, and made special reference to the example of Judy Michael, the first woman to go public (in Madang) about her HIV+ status. Judy became the first Care & Counselling Coordinator, and she was generally highly regarded by all who knew her. Acting Provincial Administrator Ben Lange read a speech for the MP Buka Malai Goli, who was supposed to attend, but was delayed in Port Moresby. The speech was based on the saying that “It’s not the mountain that defeats you, it’s the pebble in your shoe”. If AIDS is the mountain, those ‘pebbles’ are things like stigma, gender-inequality, violence, under-education, lack of access to health and justice services, and lack of leadership. Mr. Lange also added a reference to the 6th Commandment (re: adultery). It was quite good to hear a government representative saying these words. The main question is, will those politicians remember the speech when they’re asked to fund and assist with expediting the work of the Provincial AIDS Committees in 2009? We noticed a dramatic lack of political or upper administrative presence at any of the World AIDS Day activities.

Ben Lange, Provincial Administrator (Acting)

Ben Lange, Provincial Administrator (Acting)

One of the most touching moments of the ceremony was when Mary-Anne Guam, a volunteer with Tingim Laip, read two poems written by children affected by AIDS: “My Brother” by 10 yr-old Lauren and “What is AIDS?” by 17 year old Sally Montas. With predictions of 1 in every 20 rural people in Madang province becoming HIV+ within the next five years, these poems about AIDS, written by young people affected by AIDS, served to remind us all just how serious and far-reaching the epidemic can be: the ramifications go far beyond the person infected with HIV. That’s why stopping the epidemic is as much a political and national development issue as it is a personal health issue. (FYI: the poems Mary-Anne read were part of the AIDS Poetry Project, directed by Sandra Isham Vreeland. For more information visit this website.)

Mary-Anne Guam (Tingim Laip) reads poems by children affected by AIDS, from the AIDS Poetry Project

Mary-Anne Guam (Tingim Laip) reads poems by children affected by AIDS, from the AIDS Poetry Project

Every year, Madang’s PAC Secretariat tries to do something special for World AIDS Day. Last year, they printed T-Shirts with a Pen & Ink sketch by a Tusbab High School Student. This year, to promote World AIDS Day and the new HIV Resource Centre, they sponsored an Art Competition. Artists were invited to submit original concept pieces for a mural to be painted on the front door of the Resource Centre. The concept had to “represent positive living, affirm PNG Culture and inspire hope and friendship”. The Prize was K1000.00. A committee consisting of Lady Janet Barter, internationally-recognized Madang artist Larry Santana, and two members of the PACS staff – Conrad Wadunah, the Provincial Care and Counselling Coordinator, and Dr. Heather Young-Leslie, the HIV Capacity Advisor – judged the entries. They awarded the prize to young Ritchie Garkana, of Riwo. In the second photo, Matricia Mari has just announced Ritchie’s name and is congratulating him on his prize-winning entry. Ritchie will begin painting his mural on the front door of the new Resource Centre on Dec. 3, 08. I wonder how he’ll spend his winnings?

Matricia Mari (HRC) Congratulates Ritchie Garkana, winner of the Art Competition

Matricia Mari (HRC) Congratulates Ritchie Garkana, winner of the Art Competition

The Dedication ceremony ended with a neat little ritual, playing on the idea of jettisoning the ‘pebble in your shoe’ and the potential of dropping a pebble in the sea of ignorance to create ripples of understanding and hope: Tiny white pebbles collected by Raikos District’s Wesley Tapper from the shore near Saidor were shared out to everyone who attended the Dedication. Guests were asked to think of the pebble as a small prayer for the work of the Provincial AIDS Committee, or a stone dropped in the pool to make waves, or one of those personal ‘pebbles in their shoes’ that they wanted to throw away. Taking this positive step, people were invited to place the pebble someplace in our garden, thereby putting their ‘handmark’ into the landscape of the place, and joining us all together in the work of the PAC and the intentions of the Resource Centre.

Hand with pebbles

Hand with pebbles

Thanks, Heather, for the time that you took from your busy schedule to provide this information for Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

Be Sociable, Share!
Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.