In this digital age, a set of old encyclopedias is of little value to a young Australian, yet to a remote Papua New Guinea child it is a window to the world.
Warrnambool Rotary Club international services co-ordinator Tony Austin and club members Mal Price and Richard Wilton have recently returned from the impoverished nation where they sunk bores providing clean water to the remote villages.
They also delivered donated stationery, books, clothing and sports equipment from the south-west.
“We took the encyclopedias to the school and one of the kids nearly started crying,” Mr Austin said. “He said ‘we thank you so much. You’ve brought the world to us’. No one’s ever said that before.”
It is the fourth time the Warrnambool Rotary Club has visited Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Oro Province on a humanitarian mission, with finding water the priority of their trips the past two years.
“The first time we went up we were doing general work, but it was on the basis of what I saw in those first two years that I changed the focus to finding water.”
Mr Austin said while villages were traditionally located along the river because it was close to water, the waterways were extremely dirty and polluted.
“They’re in big trouble as far as water’s concerned, so when we go into the villages they literally beg us to help get access to clean water.
“When it’s finished and you see the kids in the water that’s wonderful but it’s a bigger picture than that. It’s the picture of sickness that we’re trying to help with.
“It’s hard on us because you can’t help everyone. The requests we’re getting are growing all the time, we just haven’t got the means to do more while we’re there.”
In the past four years they have sunk nine bores but more are needed.
He said they currently put the bores down by hand but hoped to build a diesel hydraulic machine for next year’s trip.
“The machine is powered so instead of it taking all day to put a bore down, it would take an hour or so. We’re trying to speed the process up so we can get more done.”
The group spent 14 hours travelling in a dinghy to reach Embassa, having to push it themselves in some parts where the water level was low.
He said they had made an ongoing commitment to continue work in the region and there were now six Rotary clubs, including three of the four Warrnambool Rotary clubs, involved. “That’s what’s allowed us to get so much done,” he said. “If we had to rely on the resources of one club we couldn’t do it. We rely on partners. With all the good intentions under the sun you can’t do it unless you’ve got money.”
Mr Austin said Wannon Water was the biggest non-Rotary sponsor, providing funding, access to their engineers and water quality staff and smart water testing kits to use overseas.
He said local businesses who donated equipment or services for this year’s project included Alderdice Brass Foundry, Morsbearings, Shanahan Electric Motors, ACME Rural Supplies, Goodall Engineering, Price Electrical and Rodney Harris. Even the CFA jumped in to help, donating a hose and pump.
Businesses involved can vary from year to year depending on the items needed on each trip.
He said people who supported the project appreciated the importance of clean water and said Australians had a soft spot for PNG.
“There does tend to be a warmth for it. When I talk about PNG people are quite happy to help. The reality is without them there would be no project.”
He said education was “pretty much non existent once you get up into the bush” and local schools donated items they could take over. This year’s items included Allansford and District Primary School T-shirts which the PNG children proudly wore. Brauer College is another long-term sponsor of the program.
Mr Austin will share their story at various clubs and schools in the coming weeks to highlight “how tough it is up there”.
“It’s to make people aware, whether they can help or not, that less than two hours from Australia, in an airplane you’ve got people living in houses made of sticks tied to trees.
“There’s no electricity, no internet, nothing, no water. They’re still going to toilets with a hole in the ground and that’s less than two hours from Australia,” he said.
To donate cash or equipment to help build a diesel hydraulic machine to the Rotary project contact Tony on 0400 688 941.
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