Liz is Cool Earth’s new Project Coordinator. She has just returned from her first Cool Earth trip, visiting our Milne Bay partnership in Papua New Guinea.
“The week spent with our partners in Papua New Guinea absolutely flew by. Every day was packed full of community meetings, biodiversity workshops, visits to new cooperatives and lessons in basket weaving and betelnut chewing to name but a few. Trying to sum it all up in a few paragraphs is impossible but here are some of the things that really struck me on my first visit to Milne Bay:
Nothing prepared me for how much oil palm I would see.
It was the first thing that hit me. As we made the final approach in to the airport at Alotau, a carpet of oil palm plantations stretched beneath us. Driving from Alotau to Gadaisu village, row upon row of oil palms were a constant reminder of how much forest has already been lost and how real the threat is for indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea.
Three words…tough, resourceful, inspiring.
For six months before our visit there had been the worst drought in decades. Women were walking far into the forest every day to find clean water. With food gardens not producing any crops, people had been harvesting nuts, fruits and leaves from the forest. I was amazed by the incredible resilience of the village through these difficult times. I shared fantastic moments full of smiles and laughter from the women in the village. They insisted I dance with them and the children gave our cameraman, Howard and me a much needed volleyball lesson.
People really love where they live.
There is a real sense of how much the community value and love the forest, beaches and ocean that they call home. Their lives are so closely tied to their environment, for food, water and shelter. Everyone talks of ‘their place’ with real warmth.
We really need to find ways to engage young people.
Young people are the future leaders of the community and future guardians of the forest. At the moment they’re not equipped with all the knowledge and skills they need for these roles. We’re trying to change that by running school biodiversity workshops and involving them in community led-conservation. Not only that, we’re getting them more involved in the running of the community. Youth volunteers will be joining the committee to watch and learn from village elders. I really hope that these efforts will get young people more actively involved in the community and in conserving their forest.
Last but not least. You can’t beat fresh coconut.
Coconut scones, coconut bread, yam and taro in coconut cream, talautu…the list of amazing food that the women can make is endless. And nearly all involving fresh coconut in some way or another. Coconut palms line the beach and children on their break from school climb up the palms to get a tasty lunchtime treat. I look forward to my return to Orangerie Bay later in the year for more coconut delights, and to see how the community are progressing with the projects that Cool Earth supporters have funded.”