Empowering communities to improve livelihood and promote peace
02 March 2022
Councillor Maureen Mokai of Hoiebia Village in Tari-Pori District is a testament that strong community leadership can empower and change lives.
Hoiebia Village acts as a sanctuary for communities affected by conflict in the Hela Province. Councillor Maureen opened her home to her community and those displaced by conflict back in 2013 when she first became the councillor.
She first started backyard farming because she observed that the community planted only sweet potato and were not exposed to growing other garden foods such as potato, carrots, cabbage and broccoli.
“I lived for 30 years in Mt Hagen, and I saw they planted a lot of variety of vegetables. I wanted to do something similar in my village, so I came back, and mobilized mothers and youths and we started our backyard farming. This was in 2013. We started changing the practice of planting sweet potato mounts to creating plots for different vegetables,” she said.
Her backyard plots have now become a multiplication site and she is supplying seeds, providing training in farming, sewing and horticulture to both the host and displaced communities in Hoiebia. Her ambition is to supply the whole of Hela Province with seeds from her multiplication site and ultimately improving farming practices.
Councillor Maureen said that they initially lacked the skills and knowledge, but persevered. The perseverance paid off when their first partner, the Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA) stepped in to assist with basic agriculture training.
Fast forward to 2022, other partners have come on board to assist the community. The United Nations in Papua New Guinea, through its agencies FAO, IOM, and UN Women are supporting Councillor Maureen to help her community.
“I saw that a lot of mothers, their husbands had left them, and they struggled with their children to put food on the table and pay school fees. I’m also a single parent who struggled to put my six children through school. This has motivated us, and we are all working towards a better livelihood for us and our children,” she said.
Councillor Maureen said the UN have given her community a lot of training.
“IOM provided us with a water catchment, FAO trained us on how to plant sweet potato, potato, wheat and rice, UN Women provided baking training and GBV training, Peace training. The National Agriculture Research Institute have also provided farming and animal husbandry. When these trainings came, I noticed that there is change in the community,” she said.
“When we empower women and youth in the community with life skills, there will be peace.” Councillor Maureen aims to build a training center for her community. In 2021, with consent from her community, she invested a ward development grant of K15,000 to co-finance the establishment of a UN-supported community resilience resource centre. This centre will also be equipped with water catchment and storage capacity with the community in Hoiebia having free access to clean water.
On the change she would like to see in four to five years, Councillor Maureen declared, “I would like to see farming practices in Hela change, women and children to be healthy and to have good clothes. Children to go to school.”