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International Engagement Update

Yangis, Papua New Guinea and the Power of Education

Four excited-overwhelmed-tired-passionate-twenty-something-year-olds, some of us never having travelled in the Asia-Pacific before, none of us prepared for the incredibly generous welcome we had just received, sitting in a dusty classroom listening to what the community leaders of Yangis had to say about the importance of education.

“Now I believe that this kind of bloodshed will never happen again. Everyone will protect the school," said one of the Yangis Station community members, a man with an impressive beard in what looked to be his late sixties.

We had just arrived in Yangis, a remote area in the Enga Province of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, over a day’s walk across rugged mountain ranges from the nearest road. We were there to review the work of Oaktree's partner, Baptist Union Papua New Guinea, which has supported the community school in Yangis since 2006.

Yangis has a history of violence. Some say that the fighting began when a politician was murdered; some say the conflict has arisen from clan dynamics that exist in the region. Whatever the cause, it has resulted in the school being closed down for nearly 20 years, barring most young people of Yangis from access to education.

The work that Oaktree supports through Baptist Union has seen the school reopen. Teachers have returned to the area. Hundreds of students can now learn and be excited about their futures.

As well as providing access to quality education for young people in the area, one of the most significant impacts of the school in Yangis is how it has contributed to maintaining peace. There are 12 clans in Yangis, and each of them are now working together to ensure the success of the school. Members of each of the clans, women and men, assist in carrying timber down from the 'big jungle' to the school. This is a truly gruelling task--we hiked up to the milling place and only just made it, and we weren't carrying a saw mill or huge planks of timber!

There has even been an agreement that all disputes will be settled in ways that will not interfere with the school. Though there have been huge challenges operating in such a remote area, the progress made has been remarkable.

This community support is what allows a young girl from Yangis to study maths to pursue her dream of becoming a pilot (the plane that picked us up, always an exciting event in Yangis, was flown by a female pilot). It is what motivates teachers from urban areas in the Highlands to volunteer to work in remote communities away from their families and cultures.

But it also has somewhat unexpected effects--like the power to bring a community previously engaged in tribal conflict to sit in a dusty room and share their passions with a bunch of excited-overwhelmed-tired-passionate-twenty-something-year-olds from Australia.

While there were numerous differences that existed between the four of us and these leaders of a community with such a dark past and a bright future, there is nothing more unifying than the firm belief in the importance of education for young people.

Geordie Fung, Head of International Engagement