The Raikos (Rai Coast) is an unconnected part of the coastal area of Madang, with imposing, green, folded surface mountains, glistening volcanic sand bays, and rivers that metamorphose with the unpredictable PNG weather. Accessing these cut off communities is only possible by boat, then foot and in some places intrepid land cruiser travel across sprawling, fast-flowing riverbeds. There are no real roads and there are great distances to be covered in this relatively unchartered wilderness.
Living in the Raikos is challenging in so many ways; limited access to clean water, over subscribed, under performing schools, no health service, major difficulties in providing income to support families due to limited trade options, and exceptionally costly travel to get to major infrastructure. Survival really is day by day. For the fit, healthy people who have good gardens to support themselves there is some hope although getting produce to market comes at a high price. But what happens when you have no way to earn money and a family to support?
Being a woman who is a widow in Papua New Guinea, with two children to care for is an extremely hard existence. With no government support and already limited by ways to earn money, paying for food and school fees is a very difficult task. This is the life of Martha Lego.
But forty-nine year old Martha, is quite an incredible woman, along with another widow, Margaret, the pair have set up the Widow Women Association. The Association was born out of the desperate need of women who have been widowed to support their families in Rai. Martha’s husband tragically died in a car accident many years ago and since then she has struggled to pay her children’s school fees, looking for any way to ensure that she could keep her children in education to secure a brighter future for the family.
Bringing women together that are in the same situation and speaking with one voice is Martha’s vision and her continued tenacity to make something happen has meant that the Association has taken shape rapidly. Within a month they already have 30 women from four different communities. The group has the sole purpose of supporting widows, young mothers who have children and no support and divorced women. The Association is looking into ways that these women can start their own businesses from small-scale chicken farming, to piggeries, to sewing, baking, or setting up a small trade store. Martha’s sheer resolve really has no end and as I left her to depart back to Madang she held my hand and said to me, “Please bring some rice, noodles and batteries when you next return so that we can set up our store.” This is a woman who wants to earn her way out of the incredibly difficult situation she has found herself in.
Martha has been supported in her persistence and determination by the work being done in the Raikos by Mark Bristow, VSO and WWF volunteer. After one man from the remote village of Ayawang travelled all the way to see him at his office to explain how his community needed help as they had lots of great produce to sell but no way of getting it to market. After visiting the community himself, Mark has worked with village leaders to set up the Raikos Foundation. He has been offering workshops to teach people in the community how to write effective proposals and looking at opportunities for them to improve services for the community. It is a great example of the proactive approach to capacity building that VSO promotes. It really shows that from with great perseverance flourishing ideas can blossom that benefit many people and Martha really is an inspiration in a country with oh so many challenges.