Going on a “tribal venture” in one of the most culturally diverse and traditional countries on the planet sounded exciting. A real getaway. My ears pricked up when I heard “sorcery”.

All of this in one of the most diverse countries in the world, which is among the least explored. A country that is our closest neighbour.

That’s where I want to travel to.

But sadly, with “witchcraft and sorcery” comes old ways and attitudes which are at odds with the beauty of the people, landscape and culture.

PNG Mark Luckey

“A friend of a local villager got sick and died very quickly. Someone else close to the same person also got sick and died quickly. All it takes is one of the senior villagers to point the finger and say “you are a witch” and that person’s life becomes hell.”

Hard to believe? It happened last year.

It’s happening in New Guinea, 7.4 million people living just under 4 km away from the northernmost tip of Australia. Seventy percent of women have experienced some form of gender-based violence during their lifetime. It’s one of the highest rates in the world. It’s a story that gets amplified and scares off tourists.

There is hope and there is a way.  A campaign of education and awareness called “Senisim Pasin – change your ways”, is part of the solution. Its effect has been unbelievable.

PNG Mark Luckey 2

Telling the story is my accountant, Samina (Sam) Yip, a native of PNG, educated in Brisbane and graduate of Science in Biology & Psychology in Melbourne. Later she completed the Strategic Management & Leadership program at Stanford University. She also practices jujitsu. Mental and physical strength packaged with a very cheeky grin.

In early January 2017, Sam joined the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation as project coordinator for the Senisim Pasin Campaign. Tribal Ventures, (more later) is one of the travel and tourism programs of the PNG Tribal Foundation.

“You are dealing with the eastern world where black magic or Sanguma is still acknowledged. So if someone gets sick suddenly or has a growth or infection, some still believe a spell was put on them,” Sam explained.

“As a child growing up I saw public beatings of many women, including family. It’s been normalised. So the Senisim Pasin campaign is to change that mindset and to explain there is a better way to handle things through communication and dispute resolution.

“It’s also about educating the Western world that we need to help those who can’t help themselves, that sharing their knowledge can, will and is making a difference to one of the most beautiful cultures in the world.”

PNG shirt

The film “Senisim Pasin” is an educational campaign that tours communities across PNG building community support for gender appreciation. It taps a successful global model for changing mindsets on gender-based violence.

This is where a Catch-22 becomes apparent. For tourism to take hold, there needs to be improvements in infrastructure and an appreciation of the local culture. Once people start travelling, awareness is raised and the money starts flowing in. But these awkward conversations or difficult truths are hard for many people to handle. It takes the shine off of a beautiful destination.

Handling these difficult truths is in part of the mission of the PNG Tribal Foundation and Gary  “GT” Bustin.  Born in Goroka and raised in the remote Southern Highland’s jungle of Papua New Guinea, GT was given the traditional PNG name “Yambrumari” or “White Crocodile” because he is known for moving quietly with strength and intensity.

To tackle the challenge takes great persistence and vision. That’s where the vision of the Tribal Foundation comes into play. It’s something GT has in spades:

“Nation building starts with people building… because of these beliefs, the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation develops models that are both meaningful and lasting with a singular goal of improving lives, and in doing so, improving our nation.”

More on them and the exciting prospects of Tourism in PNG next week.

Have you travelled to Papua New Guinea?