VSA has been in Papua New Guinea (PNG) since 1970 and works with partners to strengthen the quality of education, community support networks and secure livelihoods for rural people. Since 2005 we have concentrated our efforts to work in three island provinces: East New Britain, West New Britain and New Ireland. Our volunteers work for local government and NGO partner organisations in such diverse areas as agricultural advice, gender equality, and IT training. VSA has a field office in Kokopo, East New Britain, staffed by an in-country Programme Manager.
Jenny Spencer is working as Human Resources Management Adviser for the Wide Bay Conservation Association in Kokopo, PNG. She is accompanied by her husband and fellow volunteer, John. They will return to New Zealand in September 2014. View Profile
PNG is the largest nation in the Pacific with a majority Melanesian population of just over six million. Over 850 indigenous languages are still in use by people from a society that ranges from traditional village-based life to modern urban living.
Underlying PNG culture is the wantok system. Wantok, or ‘one talk’, refers to the people who speak your language or your extended family/clan; a Papua New Guinean’s primary loyalty will be to their wantoks. The country is predominately Christian, with indigenous faith and spirituality still important to many local people.
Subsistence farming accounts for the bulk of economic activity with approximately 85 per cent of the workforce involved. There is also a narrow employment base in mineral production, manufacturing, public sector and service industries including finance, construction, transportation and utilities.
Most people live a semi-subsistence lifestyle and sell surplus products. Formal unemployment rates are low with few vocational training opportunities available to rural poor and this continues to be a priority for economic development. In education, low primary and secondary school enrolment rates, inadequate teaching skills and high female illiteracy are all issues. There are ongoing social problems precipitated by rural-to-urban migration, gender inequalities, ethnic tensions and the need for a government structure able to build and maintain a diverse social and cultural environment. Primary health care in provincial rural areas is a priority. Infant and maternal mortality rates are high and TB, dengue fever, malaria and HIV/AIDS are increasing.
We provide volunteers with basic, furnished accommodation but you may be asked to share accommodation with other volunteers as there is a shortage of housing.
PNG is a conservative country and some western-style clothing is not appropriate. Loose fitting, light, cotton clothing is best. For men, choose long pants, knee-length shorts and short-sleeved shirts. For women, dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn – sleeveless shirts are also acceptable. Don’t expose skin above the knee though, especially when attending traditional events.
Malaria is endemic in many parts of PNG, including West and East New Britain, and New Ireland, and all our volunteers must use malarial prophylaxis. Other precautions are still recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves / trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in villages. Skin infections can develop quickly so have a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics. Public hospitals are found in all provincial centres and smaller health centres are scattered throughout rural areas. Health care is basic and you’ll need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.
We provide all selected volunteers with a thorough security briefing and specific local issues are covered during your in-country orientation. In general, there are no problems moving around towns and major centres in East New Britain and New Ireland, but more caution is needed in West New Britain. Land ownership is complex in PNG and strangers cannot wander freely through private or empty land without first seeking permission. Take care when walking alone and avoid this at night.
Banks are found in all provincial centres – Westpac, ANZ, the Bank of the South Pacific and the Papua New Guinea Banking Corporation. We open a local bank account for all volunteers once they arrive in PNG where monthly living allowances are paid into. Debit cards are available and you’ll find ATM/Quickcash machines at town centre locations with an increasing number of shops also having EFTPOS machines. Some hotels/guest houses accept foreign credit cards, as do Air Nuigini. Local currency is the Kina. Visit XE.com for current exchange rates.