Friday, August 28, 2009

Eight-Mile Settlement breaks down the barriers

Youths from Eight-Mile Settlement.-Picture by SEAN DAVEY

Settlements of Papua New Guinea are notorious for being crime hotspots where murder, rape, prostitution, marijuana, homebrew, card gambling and all manner of vice abound.
But from this gloom and doom, despair and no hope disparagement, has come a silver lining to the dark cloud.
It is a powerful story of hope and inspiration that can bring down mountains and transform PNG into the better place we all dream of.
The Eight-Mile Settlement outside Port Moresby is setting the pace for other settlements in PNG by having its own photographic exhibition and establishing its own website which features heartwarming poems and stories written by its residents.
Eight-Mile Settlement is an interesting part of Port Moresby, and of PNG.
It is a 10-minute drive from Port Moresby International Airport.
The community of Eight-Mile Settlement welcomes visitors to come and see what life in a settlement is really like.
It is no secret that Port Moresby has a bad reputation as being a dangerous place to visit, and to live.
Settlement communities in Port Moresby are often especially regarded as notoriously-dangerous places.
However, settlement communities, including Eight-Mile Settlement, are first and foremost communities of people, living together as best they can, trying to work, feed their families, and survive, just like everyone else in the world.
The majority of residents in Eight-Mile Settlement live without power and running water.
There is one main water pipe that comes on twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, and this water supplies around 15,000 people with their daily water needs.
While living conditions in Eight-Mile Settlement are extremely basic, the community works together to promote a peaceful and harmonious environment in which people can live their lives and raise their families.
Most of the people who live in Eight-Mile Settlement come from the Highlands of PNG.
In the community at Eight-Mile they make gardens, and there are two markets where you can buy fresh, locally-grown produce for a fraction of what you might pay in the supermarket.
The exhibition with a difference, titled ‘Life in 8-Mile is Hard’ opened at the University of PNG last Saturday night, continued for all of this week and will next year be featured at the Monash Gallery of Art in Melbourne, Australia.
A difference in that it featured photographs by settlement youth who were taught and inspired by Australian professional photographer Sean Davey.
In what is believed to be a first for a settlement community in Papua New Guinea, Davey has also set up a website entirely devoted to the Eight-Mile Settlement, which showcases their photographs, writings, arts and crafts, paintings and lifestyle.
The photography exhibition that opened at UPNG was part of a gala evening that showcased the fruits of an arts education programme that was run at Eight-Mile Settlement from June 1-7 this year.
Funded by The Law and Justice Sector through AusAID, and facilitated by UPNG, the workshop attracted over 100 local youths from Eight-Mile Settlement each day the workshop was on.
The group was headed by UPNG theatre lecturer and Eight-Mile resident David Motsy.
The workshop focused on four main activities: painting, drama, music and story telling.
“Fruits of the workshop can be viewed at and also I believe that this website is the first in Papua New Guinea devoted entirely to a settlement community,” Mr Davey said.
“While I was facilitating at the workshop, I was photographing in the settlement and interviewing residents.
“Local boys would accompany me and help with introductions and translation.
“I gave them a small digital camera that I had in my camera bag and asked them to start using the camera to photograph as well.
“They really liked photographing and they passed the camera amongst themselves and made plenty of pictures of the settlement, including portraits, landscapes and close-ups.
“One youth, 17-year-old Emmanuel Onom Mel, in particular liked the camera and taking pictures a lot.
“He kept the camera and would photograph everything.
“He was very enthusiastic.
“I downloaded the photographs that the youths made and I was very impressed by the intuitive style in which they were working, photographing very candidly and freely.
“They were getting ‘real’ pictures of settlement life, compared to the more formal and posed photos that I, as an outsider, was making.”
Mr Davey showed a selection of Emmanuel's work, and other youths’, to the curator at the Monash Gallery of Art in Victoria, and he was very impressed by what he saw.
“On the basis of this, he offered to have an exhibition of my work, along with work done by Emmanuel, at the Monash Gallery of Art in February and March 2010,” he said.
Emmanuel Onom Mel, Wanpis Kaupa and Nathan Peter are three young men who have benefited tremendously from the workshop and want to lay the foundation for a better Eight-Mile Settlement and PNG.
Chatting with them over a cup of coffee this week made me realise that PNG has enormous untapped potential among our young people.
“This has been a very fruitful exercise because we had a lot of our young people at Eight-Mile involved,” Mr Kaupa beamed.
“These young people used to waste a lot of time on unproductive things like playing cards, drinking homebrew and smoking marijuana.
“What we have ventured into is something that no other settlement in PNG has done before.
“We have appeared on the front page of The National, have talked on radio and we now have our own website where people from all over the world can learn about us.”
Sean Davey, a bright and ambitious young photographer, says working with the youth of Eight-Mile has changed his outlook on life.
“They (youth) are saying ‘we’re not all drug bodies and thieves’,” he sparkles.
“Over the last two months, Eight-Mile has gone from nowhere to having its own website, appearing on the front page of The National and on the NBC.
“There’s an excitement at Eight-Mile now.
“For me, the biggest thing is breaking down the stereotype of settlements being ‘no-go’ zones.
“I hope that what we’re doing is breaking down the stigma.
“If you provide an opportunity, these guys will take anything that comes.
“These guys are willing to learn and participate.
“I know I’m going back to Cairns (Australia) a better person.”
Sean Davey can be contacted on email

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