By JUDITH LACY of Fairfax NZ News
Taro and exotic flowers sound like the stuff of tropical holidays, but for New Zealander Jessica Bensemann, they are – she hopes – the means of improving life for Papau New Guinean women.
Bensemann, who has just finished her master of agricommerce at Massey University, leaves at the end of the month to spend a year in East New Britain, a province of PNG.
The 27-year-old will be a business development adviser for Volunteer Service Abroad, working with the East New Britain Women and Youth in Agriculture Co-operative.
|Branching out…Palmerston North's Jessica Bensemann will spend a year in East New Britain, helping women grow their small agricultural businesses|
The co-op has about 50 members who want to develop their small agricultural businesses.
Bensemann had been thinking of working for VSA for a while, and when she saw the position advertised, was keen, since it is a mix of agriculture, business and working with women.
The timing was right to do something that made a difference, she said.
After meeting former VSA volunteers, Bensemann expects she will get as much out of her experience, in terms of skill development and personal growth, as she will provide the women with.
VSA provides accommodation, a living allowance, flights and vaccinations.
Bensemann has already travelled to Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia and Vietnam and is excited Papua New Guinea is not on the normal tourist routes.
The East New Britain co-operative is exploring flower-growing opportunities.
The island's tourist industry is growing with visitors attracted by diving around World War II shipwrecks.
Bensemann understands most hotels currently use plastic flowers in their foyers.
The co-operative has taken one experimental shipment of the island's taro to Port Moresby, and exporting the staple to New Zealand is a possibility.
Bensemann sees her role as helping the women to help themselves.
She said she will go with an open mind looking at what the co-operative does, what the women's goals are and how she can help them by drawing on her agribusiness and economic study and work experience.
Bensemann's master's thesis explored the decisions New Zealand farmers make when selling their lamb.
Bensemann grew up on a sheep and beef farm near Nelson.
She has a bachelor of commerce with honours in economics and finance from Victoria University.
In 2006 she joined Beef + Lamb New Zealand, first as a trade policy analyst, then in the data collection team.
That experience made her want to study agriculture, so she started at Massey University in 2010.
VSA is a volunteer organisation that sends Kiwis on long and short-term assignments to share their skills with the people of Melanesia, Polynesia and Timor Leste.
Since it began 50 years ago, 3, 500 people have volunteered their time.