In Conculsion: Success!

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We are very happy to inform you that on Sunday, October 6, the Projects for Underserved Communities Papua New Guinea Project was completed and operational! The PUC-PNG project has successfully provided improved access to clean water for over 500 people.

After our departure from PNG, ATCDI oversaw and organized the completion of the project which included mounting and installation of the solar panels, installation of the submersible pump, installation of the pump controller, and all intermediate wiring. The project was completed over the weekend of October 4-6. A special thanks goes to Bob Kamila, the engineer at ATCDI who worked with us this past year and proved to be a tremendous asset to our team and to this project.

Based on the report from Bob, the pump has been running as designed. The pump is manually turned on at 9 am and begins pumping at that time. His report explains that the float switch shuts off the pump before the end of the day (approx. 4-5 hours of pumping as designed). All electrical connections were checked and verified by an electrician from the University of Technology, Lae.

Our team would like to express tremendous gratitude towards everyone who helped make this project possible. This includes everyone at Exxon who made sure we were well taken care of during our stay in PNG. Knowing that the project was successful and seeing the pictures of community and the finished result is one of the most rewarding experiences.

Again, thank you to all of you who made this project possible!

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From Texas with Love

It’s been a long time since our last post. We’ve finally reaclimated to school, work, and our original lives, though  we frequently think back on our experience and the wonderful people we met there. Most of us have met up with each other at least briefly – exchanging photos and returning gifts that wouldn’t fit in each others’ bags. We’ll meet up again this week for sure, as we have a dinner planned with Jimmy Canning (one of our amazing contacts at Esso)!

In the meantime, we’ve received pictures of the tanks stand upright, and some good news regarding the shipment! The pump and solar panel arrived in Lae about a week ago, cleared PNG customs 2 days later, and are finally with ATCDI. We’ve been in touch with Bob Kamila who has been letting us know of the progress along the way – from the pump and solar panel’s arrival at ATCDI to the cutting and threading of the few remaining pipes. Everyone is still very excited to bring this project to completion. Throughout last week and continuing this week, ATCDI will be gathering the final materials and travelling to the village to complete the project!

We’ll keep you posted!???????????????????????????????

Day 12: Farewell

This morning, we had a brief breakfast, said our goodbyes to Jane, stopped in the office for some quick printing, and headed to Mangiang for the last time.

We had confirmed that the pump and solar panels would not arrive before we would leave, but we still wanted to accomplish as much as we could today.  Our goal was to place the steel plates on top of the tank stand (under the tank), and possibly put the tank itself on top of the plates.  Bob had also mentioned the possibility of installing a temporary gas-powered pump.  This would allow us to put a small amount of water in the tank, and turn on a tap and see the water flow out, which would at least demonstrate how the system would work.  It seemed like a lot to try to accomplish in a day, but we wanted to see how far we could get.

Unfortunately, we were stymied again, this time with the news that Bob was having vehicle trouble and was stuck on the road.  He had the steel plates with him in his vehicle, so this quickly put a damper on our plans.  Still, we tried to stay productive.  We planned out the attachment of the steel plates to the top of the structure.  We coordinated with the villagers on the cleaning of the Tuffa tank.  We witnessed the butchering of a pig (which, due to their demand, are a symbol of status within the community).  At Gonny’s request, we also took several photos the water committee, the “20 pela strong pela man” who helped with much of the physical labor, and our team.

The activity was interrupted by a loud screeching noise entering the village.  It was Bob, in a vehicle that clearly was not doing too well.  But he had brought the steel plates, the temporary pump, and a few extra men, and we redoubled our efforts to get his plan done.

We quickly gave Bob and his crew the information they needed to continue, but it was now time for lunch.  By now, we knew how important regular meals and the feeding of guests are in this community, so working through lunch was never even a remote possibility.  Our lunch included the freshly cooked pig we had seen earlier.

The lunch was combined with a meeting with the Mangiang water committee, where Ashwin presented them with the technical manual for the system (once complete) and recommendations for improving water quality. The meeting went smoothly and was well-received.  The community did seem to understand the difficulty in constructing such a elaborate project in such a short timeframe, and we were very grateful for their understanding.

After lunch, we found that our cutting and welding instructions for the steel plates had been completed as we specified.  The villagers then took on the task of bringing each of two plates to the top of the tank stand, which they accomplished in short order.  They next attempted the much more difficult task of bringing the 9000 liter tank up to rest on top of the stand.  With a combination of some very long sticks, many strong men, and some incredible ingenuity, they were at able to partially complete this task, amazingly bringing the tank all the way to the top of the 4 meter stand.  However, the tank was resting on its side instead of upright, and it became clear that turning it, not to mention setting up the temporary pump, would require much more time that we had left in our day.

The Mangiang villagers attempt to raise the 9000 liter tank to the top of the tank stand

The Mangiang villagers attempt to raise the 9000 liter tank to the top of the tank stand

With this in mind, the villagers began their farewell ceremony.  After brief statements from Gonny and others, Ashwin gave a statement of our own thanking Mangiang for their wonderful hospitality and for all their support throughout this project.  Crystal then presented the community with some of the gifts we had planned for, including printed and laminated photos, thank you notes, and a couple of rugby balls from the UT rugby team (Hook ’em Horns!).

They then returned the gifts a hundred times over.  Similar to Jane’s ceremony yesterday, all of us received multiple gifts, including:

  • Two dresses each for Nita and Crystal
  • A polo shirt each for Ashwin and Neil
  • About 15 bilum bags apiece
  • Flowers in their hair for Crystal and Nita
  • Bags made from animal fur for Crystal and Nita
  • Headpieces for Nita and Neil
  • Necklaces
  • Coconut shell soup spoons

Some of the bags also contained very nice handwritten notes written by the gift giver’s family.

Neil and Ashwin show off their gifts to a villager

Neil and Ashwin show off their gifts to a villager

Crystal and Nita with Ezekiel, water committee member and our food server throughout this trip

Crystal and Nita with Ezekiel, water committee member and our food server throughout this trip

The villagers then lined up and we shook their hands as we walked along the line. After this, we crossed the river and made our way to Gonny’s house. There, we had one last kaikai with Gonny, his family, and other villagers. Ashwin again thanked Gonny and the village for all their hospitality, and Crystal presented Gonny and his family with our remaining gifts.  They of course reciprocated again with several more gifts for us.  Bob also spoke briefly, reassuring the villagers that he would help them finish the project.  But it was getting late and was time to go.

We walked slowly to our vehicle through a crowd of villagers.  To this point, all of us had been keeping our composure.  But now that the final goodbye had finally come, the emotion finally flowed freely from our team and the villagers. With tears in our eyes, we said our goodbyes to many of the villagers and the people we had worked with.  The last person waiting at the car was Gonny, and with tears in our eyes, each of us gave him a final hug.  There were tears in his eyes as well.  It was amazing how in such a short time, we felt so accepted and so welcomed.  Even though we did not finish everything we wanted to, we really felt the sense of family, and of being accepted into the village community.

This has been an absolutely fantastic experience for all of us.

Thank you, Gonny.

Thank you, Mangiang.

Day 11: Some Reassurance & Jane’s Last Day

This morning, for the last time, the team split up with the engineers heading back into Lae and the social workers staying behind, though this time they were at the office instead of 11-Mile Camp. Jane and Crystal used the office to print some photos for gifts for some of our contacts in the village, Esso Highlands, and 11-Mile Camp. It was also the perfect time to add more photos to some of our past posts, so feel free to browse through again and get a better at what we’ve been up to!

The engineers’ first appointment was at Unitech with Dr. John Pumwa, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Technology and a graduate of Texas A&M University with a PhD in mechanical engineering. The team was sad not to be able to all meet with him, but even so, the meeting went very well. All things considered, Dr. Pumwa was extremely supportive and very reassuring in terms of his and ATCDI’s commitment to completing this project after our departure. He also repeated again and again how important it was to him that our team have the benefit of experiencing PNG for ourselves in order to better understand it and realize that the stories that often make the news are not a true picture of the country and its people. We were also very grateful to hear that he hopes to continue to partner with PUC and UT in the future. We know that he is a very busy man and we sincerely appreciated him taking time out of his schedule to meet personally with some of our team.

After meeting with Dr. Pumwa, Nita, Ashwin, and Neil met again with Bob and John at ATCDI to discuss the terms of ATCDI’s continued involvement in the project and their commitment to its completion. They also took the opportunity to go over some last-minute accounting details before the entire team leaves for home this weekend. It was at this meeting that Bob presented the engineers with a very unique gift for all of the team members to take home: a manual/guidebook for development work in Papua New Guinea called Liklik Buk (“Little Book”), an ironic title considering that it is a massive volume. We had first seen the book when Marty brought one back to the States after the recon trip in April and we are all very excited to be able to add it to our shelves at home as a reminder of our time and work here.

Last thing on the Lae “to do list” was a trip to our suppliers with materials on back order to confirm that they were en route and that Bob would be able to collect them and transport them to the village once they arrived.

All things considered, the engineers’ morning in Lae moved relatively quickly and they were able to meet our social work students back at the Esso Highlands office just after 11am. We grabbed some lunch to go from the office mess and hit the road Mangiang before 11:45. We even held onto some apples and oranges that had been packed in our lunch because Gonny and Ezekiel had never tried them before! We finally got to share a little piece of our homes with our hosts! (Obviously, they enjoyed them. Who doesn’t like an apple?)

Since it was another short afternoon in the village and much of the work was on hold until Bob comes tomorrow morning, much of the time spent in the village was of a more social nature. First thing after our village lunch, Gonny was able to set up a meeting with the team and the community to discuss the status of the project after the information we’d learned last night about the materials stuck on a boat just leaving Brisbane. It’s safe to say that we were all nervous as to how the community would react, especially considering our own disappointment and anger, but thankfully they were the picture of patience and understanding. The ward councilor, Timmy Tom, spoke to everyone gathered there and reassured us that the community was still with us and understood that we were all still committed to finishing the project. We were very honored and deeply relieved to still have the community’s trust.

Jane with the villagers and some of her Mangiang "swag" at her farewell ceremony.

Jane with the villagers and some of her Mangiang “swag” at her farewell ceremony.

The last item of the day was a small ceremony to commemorate Jane’s last day in Mangiang. Considering the elaborate welcoming ceremony, we weren’t sure exactly what to expect, but knew that it would be heartfelt, beautiful, and full of tradition. Jane was perhaps a little nervous to go through it first and alone since the rest of the team will have a ceremony tomorrow on their last day, but she couldn’t wait to find out what was in store. She also had the support of Timmy Tom leading the ceremony, and was flanked on either side by a woman named Lynette and the community’s Lutheran pastor for support. We were told over the last couple of days that the villagers had prepared gifts for us and boy, did they! One by one women approached the front and placed bilum bags (traditional string bags) and shell necklaces around Jane’s neck. Someone brought up a traditional skirt made from shredded sago palm leaves. Another woman placed a dress over her head with the colors of the flag of the Morobe province where Mangiang and Lae are situated. Someone added an arm band made from some kind of bone. Each person who approached shook her hand and, eventually, the ceremony ended with each person in attendance coming up and individually shaking her hand to say goodbye. Their generosity and gratitude were completely overwhelming and is an experience to treasure.

After the more formal ceremony, the team reassembled and headed over to Gonny’s house for one more meal all together. Jane requested that they walk across the river for her last afternoon, so the team wandered down the path with banana and palm trees shading the way. Neil and Ashwin raced each other and some of the village children down to the water. Eventually, the team made it to Gonny’s yard and the table was pulled out into the yard so that the whole family could join us. The family presented one final bilum bag, spoke a few prayers, served kaikai (“food”), and then said their goodbyes to Jane. It was extremely emotional for Jane to say goodbye to Gonny and his family who have been our caretakers over the last week and a half. After today’s farewell events, one thing is clear: Mangiang sure knows how to make a person feel loved. We can’t wait to find out what will happen tomorrow when Crystal, Ashwin, Nita, and Neil all have to leave.

Day 10: Ups & Downs

Today was a day of highs and lows. We started the day in the village with the sight of the tank stand nearly complete, with just a few welds left to do. Ronald, as per usual, worked like crazy all day to make sure it was finished in a timely manner and the result was beautiful. As he worked, some of the villagers made their way around the structure painting all of the completed welds to help prevent corrosion in the future and Ronald’s assistant, Samuel, quietly and efficiently followed behind Ronald grinding everything down.

While the last of the welds were in progress, our engineers worked to gather all of the materials we would need handy once the tank stand was pulled upright. Nita and Neil put on a mini seminar to demonstrate to some of the men who have been helping us throughout the construction phase how the rebar would be placed and secured in the footings of the tank stand and what the purpose was of each piece and the overall design. It was nice to be able to have the time and enough of the guys who weren’t already busy to actually slow down enough to prep a bit for the next step and actually explain the reason behind and purpose of what we were about to do.

Jane and Crystal work with our volunteer translators to add Tok Pisin phrases to the banner for the school.

Jane and Crystal work with our volunteer translators to add Tok Pisin phrases to the banner for the school.

Meanwhile, Crystal and Jane prepared for the afternoon’s school visit with the help of the same village translators who had assisted in completing the surveys over the weekend (David and Filamon), as well as our drivers for the day, Robert and Reuben. We brought with us from Austin a beautiful banner which was generously donated by Larry Perez Signs in Round Rock and made from an image we’d found from a water education program online. The image depicts different clean water sources and water uses and the idea is to match each one with a list of those sources on uses on one side of the image. The idea is to teach about safe water practices and the importance of water for daily life. Since the image was in English, we wanted to be sure that we provided the text in Tok Pisin, as well. The guys worked together to talk out each phrase to make sure we had the closest translation. David then wrote them out for Jane on a piece of paper, so that she wouldn’t make any spelling mistakes on the actual poster, then she wrote out each Pisin phrase underneath the English.

After an early lunch (or “brunch,” an American tradition we had taught Gonny the afternoon before), we hit a bit of a snafu on our way to depart for the school. We had originally hoped that our group could split up just for an hour or so, leaving two of our engineers behind to monitor the rest of the work on the tank stand. Since splitting up is a security no-no, even within Maniang, and since Ronald et al. would need to stop for lunch eventually, anyway, we decided to all head to the school together in the end.

Some of our team standing with Joyce, the school's Head Girl, and the donated banner in front of the rest of the schoolchildren.

Some of our team standing with Joyce, the school’s Head Girl, and the donated banner in front of the rest of the schoolchildren.

We had not been able to get very much information about the school in advance, so we were unfortunately unable to prepare more than the donation of the poster before our arrival. What we did know was that the school had approximately 350 students between grades 3 and 8. We also were not able to spend as much time there as we had originally hoped, but we were glad at least to have seen the place, met the teachers, and been able to present to the kids. After introductions and an explanation of the poster (we were told that the children all understood English), we asked if the children had any questions or requests of us. The teacher, Gabby, told us that some of the children had requested that we sing our national anthem . . . . You got it! We apologized in advance for our poor singing skills and secured an exchange of the kids singing the PNG national anthem before we began. Then we picked a key and the five of us gave our best shot at the extremely difficult song. (USA! USA!) It went well, though we certainly won’t be up for any Grammies. Regardless, the kids seemed to enjoy it. Then, it was their turn. Gabby instructed the children to rise, then 350 voices rang out with the Papua New Guinea national anthem. Although we couldn’t tell you any of the words off the top of our heads other than “Papuaaaaa New Guineaaaaa,” it was a lovely tribute and a beautiful song.

After the school, we headed back toward the project site, stopping briefly in a wide open field where Gonny introduced us to Lawrence, the District President (a position that Gonny had held before Lawrence), who was busy setting up for a conference that will take place in September, bringing 150,000 Papua New Guineans to Maniang. We also stopped there so that Gonny could show us a Tuffa tank and temporary stand that he had built in preparation for the conference.

Eventually, we made it back to the village center and soon it was the moment of truth: it was finally time to hoist the 1500 pound tank stand upright and set it in place. Up to this point and throughout construction it had been alternately on one side or upended and resting on the top. The villagers had some straps we had provided, some ropes and straps of their own making, long sticks, a couple barrels, and about 50 men either directing the others or actually with their hands on the stand, ready to pull it up. I think all of us on our team were holding their breath as it came up, but once the villagers had a plan, it went very smoothly. They worked in teams, got the heavy top of the stand off of the ground, then managed to set it down gently on the four footings in the holes that they’d dug for them on day two. It was extremely satisfying to see the stand finally towering above us, just waiting for concrete footings and a tank on top!

The villagers adjust the newly upright tank stand, making sure it ends up level.

The villagers adjust the newly upright tank stand, making sure it ends up level.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting the rebar into place and beginning to mix and pour the concrete. As with every previous step in the process, the villagers wasted no time jumping in and making themselves useful. We had to undo and redo the rebar a couple times as we went, but we finally found a procedure that worked and got it done. After seeing the villagers with the concrete last time, we weren’t worried at all about how that would go, but just made sure that we had enough bags of concrete to finish the job. We worked right up until 4:30, when it was time to go.

Unfortunately, an otherwise productive and heartening day ended with the biggest disappointment of the trip. We learned that what we had been told yesterday about our solar panel and water pump being in Port Moresby was, in fact, incorrect and that the materials had not yet even left Australia. We were crushed. Ultimately, it turns out that they were put on a ship in Brisbane and are expected to arrive in Lae no earlier than the 30th. Since it’s already been loaded on the ship, we have no way to expedite it to Lae in order to get it to the village before we have to leave to head back home. We are still hoping for a miracle and we will be back in touch with the company in Australia tomorrow to make sure we’ve done everything we can to help smooth out this incredibly disappointing bump in the road. Thankfully, our in-country support has continued to amaze us with their generosity and willingness to help us, even after we’re gone. We will be discussing the details tomorrow with the folks at ATCDI to determine how they will carry on and complete the project if it must be done after our departure (and we have complete faith in them to get the job done). Matt Smith here at Esso Highlands has also offered his help for making sure the package gets through customs and possibly even with delivery of the materials, if necessary. Although we are all devastated by the thought that we may not be able to see this through to the end, we are deeply grateful to those who have been so helpful to our team throughout our time here in PNG.

Tomorrow will be a day of errands and meetings in Lae, then an afternoon back in the village to discuss with the village leaders and the Water Committee the events of today and the best course of action for the team’s last day in-country. We hate to have to deliver bad news, but we hope that our commitment and sincerity will be as obvious tomorrow as it was on day one. Tomorrow will also be Jane’s last day in PNG, with an early flight on Saturday morning, then the rest of the team will follow on Sunday. We’ll keep you up to date on how things go tomorrow and how we can wrap up our time here as neatly and positively as possible.

Day 9: Welding, Juggling, & Bilum Bags

Today and the last couple of days have been pretty hot out, making our work in the afternoons a little rough. Certainly nothing we Texans aren’t used to, but generally at home we have the good sense to go inside or stay in the shade, rather than work with welding metal in direct sunlight. With our time frame here in PNG, however, that is not an option. We carried on!

Almost as soon as we arrived, the work began. Now that the welding was well underway, it was time to pound out the rest of the welds and get the tank stand built. We had gathered our team of 20 pela strongpela man, and moved the previously welded frames closer to the site where the tank stand will actually be to make it easier to erect once all the welding is complete.

Our welder, Ronald, has been a true rock star throughout this week and today was no exception. He worked quickly, he always checked with us to make sure he was doing everything correctly, and he worked ALL DAY. Unfortunately, we had to leave the village before we could see the tank stand fully assembled, but it was most of the way there and Ronald was still plugging away!

Some of the men work together using a kind of vice and brute strength to bend rebar needed for the tank stand footings.

Some of the men work together using a kind of vice and brute strength to bend rebar needed for the tank stand.

We also worked with some villagers to do a little problem solving regarding bending some rebar that will go into the concrete footings on the tank stand. We didn’t exactly have a vice (at least not the kind you’re thinking of), but what we did have was the Maniang villagers ingenuity and our own problem solving skills. We came up with a lot of ideas, but only two or three good ones. Ultimately, we had several teams working at one time: one bending the rebar using the end of one of our steel beams, one using a a wheel rim, and another using a kind of clamp we had never seen before that involved tightening what looked like a bicycle chain over the rebar to clamp it down. Each team got better as they went along and eventually we had 12 very nicely squared pieces of rebar.

We’ve also had a little bit of drama regarding our project over the last 24 hours. Since our arrival, we have been waiting for the arrival of our solar-powered pump and solar panels, which were ordered from a company in Australia before our arrival. We were given a timeline of 8-12 days for delivery, which had passed. We asked Bob to contact the company and try to find out what was going on. He got the shipping information, checked the tracking number, and was told that no record existed of the shipment. Uh oh. First thing the next morning, we tried contacting the Australian company and Matt generously got in touch with the shipping company here in PNG. We also had a lot of help from Taylor back home (thanks, Taylor!) who continued to call the Australian company after we had to leave for the village and would no longer have reliable service. We eventually learned that the shipment did exist and that it had made it as far as Port Moresby. Matt was working to get it on a flight to Lae some time today, so keep your fingers crossed that we can get our hands on it some time tomorrow!

Despite the heat and the drama of the day, there was some time for fun and games while the welding continued. The work had collected an audience of pikinini (children) sitting around the well watching the progress. Neil took the opportunity to entertain the group with his superb juggling skills, absolutely captivating the kiddos in attendance. Jane, a very much inferior juggler, even managed to help with one trick towards the end of Neil’s show. Some of the children had gathered three lemons for us to juggle and after the show was over, Ashwin and Jane carried on a game of catch with the kids. Ashwin would sometimes throw the lemon high up in the air and we’d watch all the kids scramble and tousle each other trying to get to it first. The kids also enjoyed hurling two or three lemons back at Ashwin at one time to see if he could catch them all. Although some catches were impossible, he did manage it quite a few times! It was really a delight to have the village children start to warm up to us a little more after starting out so bashful. They’ve also been more excited about having theirphotos taken so they can see them afterwards. Our “recess” was a really nice break in the middle of our morning.

Neil and Jane prepare to attempt a juggling trick called "the takeaway" for the Maniang children.

Neil and Jane prepare to attempt a juggling trick called “the takeaway” for the Maniang children.

Our day ended with a wonderful surprise. The kitchen staff at 11-Mile Camp have been incredibly warm, attentive, and kind to all of the members of our team. Tonight, they really went above and beyond. One of the servers, Doris, stopped us on our way out of the dining room and asked us to wait there. She reappeared moments later from the kitchen holding three bilum bags (traditional, hand-woven string bags) for the three ladies on our team. Crystal, Nita, and Jane each leaned down as she placed the bags over our heads (many people wear them around their necks or with the strap over the tops of their heads when carrying a load) and gave each of us a big hug. It was incredibly touching and our valiant male team members were kind enough to snap some great photos of the exchange. We also managed to coax Rosie and Leo, two other of the kitchen staff, into some of the photos with us. We were so honored and can’t wait to bring these bags home to show all of our friends and family!

That’s all for now, folks! Gut nait!

Day 8: Construction Continued

Gonny takes the lead as the villagers start mixing and pouring concrete for the base around each water tap.

Gonny takes the lead as the villagers start mixing and pouring concrete for the base around each water tap.

Today was a pleasantly long day in Maniang. Although at the start of the day it looked like we may have to delay our departure by around an hour or an hour and half, thanks to a bright idea by Nita, we ended up changing our plans and only having to delay about a half an hour.

When we rolled into Gonny’s yard, as expected, we were immediately fed. Mercifully, we had all eaten a light breakfast in preparation and the meal he served was also relatively light, so nobody started the day overstuffed.

Once we made it across the river into the village center, we got straight to work with the villagers on some of our more critical project items. First, we got to work laying out two frames for two sides of our tank stand so that we could mark where all the welds needed to go. Today was an extremely important day for welding and there were a lot of welds to get through! Thankfully, ATCDI’s Ronald is an experienced welder and managed to get an incredible amount of work done with only himself, one generator, and one welder! By the end of the day, we were a little less than halfway through all of our welding.

Our other big project for the day was mixing and pouring the concrete for the bases of each water tap. After the concrete was delivered yesterday, we weren’t really sure how the mixing would go. We had ordered 54 bags of pre-mixed concrete and received 55 bags of non-pre-mixed concrete . . . Alrighty then! The materials for the batch were in each bag, but the cement had not yet been mixed in. Thankfully, Gonny owns his own concrete mixer and graciously allowed the villagers to use it to help speed the work along. He’s also very experienced with concrete, so we let him take the reins and deferred to his good judgement. The results were beautiful. All four tap bases were poured by early afternoon (and the names of village children and PUC team members were scratched into the wet concrete shortly thereafter).

Today was also day two of the Women in Business workshop taking place in Maniang this week. Although we’ve been working to avoid causing a distraction while they are in session, it’s been delightful to meet women from all over the region who have come to Maniang for the workshop. There are approximately 500 women in attendance, only 60-70 of whom are from Maniang. Furthermore, it’s been an incredible opportunity to learn more about micro-credit banking and the goals of the workshop itself. Trainers have traveled in from Port Moresby (PNG’s capital city) and are here to teach these women about micro loans, etc, to help rural women start their own businesses. In the vein of India’s Grameen Bank, this system is designed specifically with these women in mind and builds accountability to repay the loan into their families and communities. Speaking to some of the villagers we learned that these kinds of loans are often used to start agricultural businesses such as raising pigs or farming.

A sign at the entrance to the Maniang community from the Highlands Highway advertising the Women in Business workshop.

A sign at the entrance to the Maniang community from the Highlands Highway advertising the Women in Business workshop.

We also had the opportunity today to meet more of Gonny’s family including a cousin, Jonathan, a councilor from another village who was visiting his family in Maniang, as well as his aunt, Gabby, who teaches at the primary school down the road. Gabby was generous enough to allow us a chance to visit the school on Thursday during their lunch time. The children there range in age from 9-14 and there are around 350 students. We are thrilled to have a chance to meet them (some of whom we will have seen in the village already). We also have plans to bring a few treats along with us, so look our for Thursday’s blog post to hear all about it!

Day 7: The Longest Shortest Day

Today was a somewhat frustrating day for our team. Once again, due to security issues, our team was forced to separate in the least efficient way. As on Friday, Ashwin, Nita, and Neil went back into Lae to obtain more construction materials, and experienced a lot of waiting and multiple delays in the process, while Jane and Crystal had to stay at ll-Mile Camp for most of the day, with no way to communicate with the engineers to find out when they were going to return to pick them up to go to the village. They tried to use their time wisely, going over the weekend’s surveys and making relevant notes, etc, but it was a pretty dull day until the brief appearance in the village.

The day in Lae for the engineering group went something like this:

  • Drive to Plumtrade (a supply store similar to Home Depot) to find supplies and get a quote.
  • Drive to bank to meet Bob, but he was not there yet and we had to coordinate to meet him later.
  • Drive to Atlas Steel to find a steel plate for the tank stand and get a quote.
  • Drive to PNG Ready Mix (concrete supplier) to confirm the Esso delivery truck had picked up our 54 bags of concrete.
  • Drive to ATCDI to meet Bob and pick up a check so we could get cash.
  • Drive to bank to cash the check.
  • Drive to Plumtrade to pay cash for materials and confirm the delivery truck had picked them up.
  • Drive to ATCDI to pick up two of Bob’s employees, Donald and Samuel, so we could take them to the village so they could work on our project.
  • Drive to 11-Mile Camp to pick up Crystal and Jane and our lunches.
  • Drive to Mangiang.

It really was a whirlwind of driving from place to place. Our drivers have been so patient and accommodating with us and we are really grateful for their help.

5 of our many drivers and security officers who have helped make this whole project possible.

5 of our many drivers and security officers who have helped make this whole project possible. Thank you!

We were extremely short on time and with our departure for Maniang around 2pm, we were really only going to have about 20-30 minutes to spend in the village. Just our luck, on the way to Mangiang, we saw our delivery truck stopped in the middle of the road with its hazard lights on. We pulled up behind it and the driver walked up to our van and told us that the truck had broken down, and that they were waiting for a mechanic to arrive to repair it. This was discouraging news for our team, as we were hoping the material would already be unloaded by the time we got there.  It felt like we had spent the whole day trying to make progress and would have nothing to show for it at the end of the day.

We finally arrived in the village. We knew that we would have an extremely limited amount of time to try to set up Donald and Samuel with some work before we had to leave. Our engineers quickly went through some of the welding we wanted done before our drivers told us we needed to go. But just as we were about to, Gonny insisted we have kai kai (food) with him before we left, and out of respect, we agreed.

Over dinner, Gonny told us that since we weren’t sure if the truck would be fixed that evening, he would send a couple of villagers back with us. They would stay with the truck overnight to guard its contents. Apparently, if a vehicle containing any merchandise at all is left by the side of the road, its contents will quickly be taken by locals. Gonny wanted to make sure this didn’t happen. Of course we were extremely grateful for his offer to guard the materials overnight, although we didn’t want to put any of the villagers in a compromising position.

Thankfully, it turned out to be a nonissue since, as we were eating, we were welcomed by the sight of our delivery truck pulling into the village!

A welcome sight from our dinner table

A welcome sight from our dinner table

Apparently, Esso had sent a second truck with no trailer to the scene, and had hooked it up to the trailer in order to deliver our materials this evening. This was a welcome event after the frustration of most of the day, and we again got to enjoy the villagers’ strength, speed, and efficiency in unloading the vehicle.

Mangiang villagers unloading bags of pre-mixed concrete

Mangiang villagers unloading bags of pre-mixed concrete

Some pikinini (children) helping with the unloading

Some pikinini (children) helping with the unloading

So after a long day, even the short time in the village really refreshed our spirits and we are ready to continue with the construction work tomorrow.

Day 6: “Planti Kaikai”

Some village women and children prepare a LOT of bananas for cooking.

Some village women and children prepare a LOT of bananas for cooking.

Today was essentially a continuation of our progress from yesterday, though with a slightly later start. So as not to disturb church, our team took this Sunday morning to sleep in a little bit and delay our departure until 8:30am so that we would arrive well after the worship service. We were sad to miss out on joining them for church, but it simply wasn’t in the stars, so we gave ourselves permission for a couple more hours to sleep.

Bob and the ATCDI crew came back to the village a little after we did and spent the day with Ashwin, Nita, and Neil, as well as our team of “20 pela strongpela men,” who continued to make themselves available and to help our progress. For example, a smaller team of five to seven of them managed to dig all four footings for the tank stand in about 20 minutes! The ATCDI guys started with finishing up the rest of the cutting leftover from the day before. They also brought their welder today, so they were able to do a test on some of our smaller pieces to make sure it was working in preparation to start welding tomorrow. Bob also spent some time checking all of the piping that was laid out yesterday and, along with our engineering team, supervised the process of cleaning, taping, and adjusting the joints and couplings in the piping system.

As for our social workers, they spent the slightly shorter day just barely finishing up the initial baseline survey regarding water uses and needs in the community that was started yesterday. Both Jane and Crystal got off to slow starts in the morning, but were able to pick up the pace in the afternoon and finish the job with exactly the amount of surveys needed to cover 10% of households in the community. While they also faced many of the same challenges as they did yesterday, they were more prepared for them, simply by the virtue of familiarity with them. The translators also seemed to catch on a little more today, which also helped to speed up the process. The plan is to review our results in the morning, but it seems like the sample included households from many different parts of the village and in a range of circumstances, so it will be interesting to see what we’ve got! As difficult as the process was, we have certainly learned a lot about the community’s water practices and needs, as well as the community structure, family units, and cultural practices.

Speaking of culture, food is very obviously at the center of this community, and there is planti kaikai (“lots of food”). It seems unlikely that any of our team have ever eaten so well! We are regularly fed four times each day: breakfast at camp before departure for the day, “light breakfast/lunch/dinner” in the village (depending on our arrival time), full lunch in the village, and then dinner in the evening upon return to camp. And we’re not talking small portions here. All of the meals at camp are buffet style, and about the same goes for the village. LOADS more food than any average man or woman could ever dream of eating. To give you an idea of the scale of each meal, here is a rough sketch of today’s menu:

Camp breakfast (7:45am): made-to-order omelettes, sausage, french toast, baked beans, hash browns  bacon, porridge/oatmeal, assorted cereals, fruit, juice, tea, and coffee

Lunch in the village (1:30pm): rice, chicken, a vegetarian cabbage dish, a meat cabbage dish, cooked banana (boiled in coconut milk in a clay pot, tasting just like a potato), potatoes, sandwiches with peanut butter, sandwiches with peanut butter and tomato sauce (not joking), orange cordial (juice concentrate), and water

Light dinner in the village (4:15pm): rice, a cabbage dish with sausage, and Milo (a hot chocolate beverage . . . HOT chocolate . . . in the late afternoon . . . outside . . . in PNG . . .)

Camp dinner (6:45pm): rice, lamb chops, roasted pork with sauce, sausage, peas and carrots, dinner rolls (a team favorite), fruit, cheese, crackers, salads and toppings, apple pie, orange chocolate cake, coconut cake, hot custard, soft serve ice cream, tea, coffee, juice, and water

Clay pots filled with bananas and coconut milk are pulled off of the fire to cool.

Clay pots filled with bananas and coconut milk are pulled off of the fire to cool.

Phew! Not one member of this team will come back skinnier than when he or she left! It’s also been rather entertaining for the rest of the team to watch Jane and Neil (the team’s notoriously slow eaters) try to clean their plates at each meal in the village. Today’s hot chocolate was particularly amusing as we were also close to running late for our daily departure time of 4:30pm. It took intense focus, but both pulled off finishing the full mug! Today’s dinner was also rather special because we were joined tonight by Matt Smith, the resident 11-Mile Camp Superintendent, who helped set us up in our accommodations and organizes our security and transport each day. We’ve not been able to spend much time with Matt since our first day, so it was nice to be able to relax and have a chat over dinner on a Sunday evening.

Tomorrow morning the team will split up again as the engineers head back into Lae to gather more materials and the social workers will hang back at camp to compile their survey data. We’ll head back into the village tomorrow afternoon and we’re rather excited as tomorrow is the first day of a three-day seminar about micro credit and business being held in the village for over 500 women from all over the region. It will be exciting to observe such a unique event and we feel incredibly lucky to have it overlap with our stay in Maniang!

That’s it for today, then. Lukim yupela tumora! (“See you all tomorrow!”)

Day 5: Construction Begins

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Maniang villagers digging trenches for pipes leading to public taps throughout the village.

Today was an eeeeearly start for our team, with everyone ready to go by 6:15am this morning. As always, there was some waiting around after that, but we were on the road and made it into the village by 9:45am. When we arrived, we found Bob and some others from the ATCDI team who had come up the evening before and were ready to get to work. That was excellent news because after all the delays of the previous week, we were ready, too!

Our engineering team got to work measuring and marking all of the materials that had been unloaded yesterday to be cut by the ATCDI team who had brought a generator with them. They were marking with chalk and then, of course, it started to rain, so the materials had to be marked a few times after the chalk had been washed off. Regardless, almost everything was cut by the time we left this afternoon!

As the materials were being cut, the community had gathered around to watch and find out what else needed to be done. Since all the piping had been staked out and there were scores of strong young men around, it was decided that it would be a good time to start digging the trenches into which we’d later lay the pipe. As with unloading the materials yesterday, it was absolutely jaw-dropping how quickly everything happened. The trenches had to be two feet deep and there were approximately 750 feet of trench to dig. Most of the job was done by lunch and the whole job probably took around three hours for the community to complete. “Efficient” and “resourceful” are the words that keeps coming up when we work with these guys. They even kept working through some of the rain that fell on us today! However they managed it, there was about 750 feet of 2-foot-deep trench running all through the village by mid-afternoon.

Meanwhile, the social work students finally got a chance to begin administering the first of two surveys to be completed in the village! This first survey is a baseline for gaining more understanding of water practices in the community, such as where water is collected, by whom, how much is used, whether or not it is treated and why, etc. It was quite a challenge gathering data, as we expected it to be. The most obvious barrier is that of language, so we must rely on translators who many not be as fluent in English and must translate between our surveys and our respondents. There may also be a bias involving the respondent trying to please the translator (which we can never confirm) or us, or even the translator trying to please us as the researchers. There was also the challenge of performing research in a community that is unfamiliar with the concept. It felt at times that people felt like our questions were a quiz with right and wrong answers as opposed to their own opinions or experiences. We certainly learned a LOT about water practices and things to note for tomorrow when we finish up the last third or so of our surveys!

Tomorrow morning is a Sunday, so the community will have their church services. Since we won’t be able to leave in time to arrive for the beginning, we’ve decided to hold off until after the service will be over, so that we don’t interrupt. The community is already generously sacrificing their sabbath afternoon to continue work with us, since they know how big of a time crunch we are under, so we wanted to be respectful of their worship and avoid drawing attention away from it.

As for the work we will do tomorrow, our social workers will complete their first survey and our engineers will oversee the rest of the cutting and the start of the welding. Wish us luck as we enter the next phase of our implementation trip!