Pawa Meri is a unique series of six short films showing some of the powerful, inspiring women making a difference in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The documentaries show the struggles faced by women in PNG and paint a clear picture of real-life in this diverse and challenging country.
The series is superbly directed by six local, women filmmakers and is punctuated with traditional and modern PNG music. Created by the Centre for Social and Creative Media (CSCM) at the University of Goroka, these impactful stories provide strong role models for young women in PNG. Not only do these films showcase inspirational stories but it gives woman directors a pedestal to show the quality of work being produced.
The films are shot in the capital Port Moresby (POM); Daru on the Fly River in Western Province; the conflicted island of Bouganville; Manus, most recently famed for the Australian detention centre being built there; Markham in Morobe Province in the East; and finally Goroka in the beautiful mountainous highlands where the Pawa Meri production team is based. The six locations capture the diversity and contrast between urban and rural settings and show the juxtaposition of traditional culture and values against the modern city landscape that is changing the face of PNG.
The first part of the series features Susil Nelson who is the Westpac Women in Business winner from POM. She is a strong business leader and the eldest in her large family. The introduction film highlights the struggles of being a woman in a male dominated society where privilege and inheritance usually goes to the males in the household but Susil shows that you can both be respected in the work place and the home.
“I don’t want my women to die through child birth. I want my mother and my women to be alive.”
In the Daru film, Never Give Up, Gina Baidam prominent community leader on the Fly River shares her story of being a village birth attendant. Gina lost her mother when she was giving birth to her. Gina’s mission is to bring health and education to her community by funding a safe motherhood centre. Maternal health is a major concern in PNG and traditional birthing is fraught with danger but as it is such a long way to clinics and health posts often women have no option. Gina comments poignantly: “I don’t want my women to die through child birth. I want my mother and my women to be alive.” The Daru film offers a beautiful window in to what everyday life is like in the village.
The trip to the Autonomous Region of Bouganville introduces the inspirational Sister Lorraine Garasu in Voice of Change. The prolific Nun was a mediator during the Bouganville crisis where 20,000 lives were lost and infrastructure collapsed when a civil war broke out over mining in the region. She helps rehabilitating people and infrastructure and helps combatants after what they experienced in the crisis. Sister Garasu speaks out as advocate on behalf of women and is working to change the situation for women being beaten by their husbands.
On the beautiful island of Manus, where crazy drumming and energetic dancing rule, we meet an amazing woman called Miriam Potope, she is a Village Leader and Magistrate and she shares her poignant story of her village being washed away by a tidal wave, her husband leaving her to marry two women in Rabaul and losing her daughter to cancer. It is the death of her daughter, of whom she is still grieving, that shows the raw emotion so ever present here in PNG. Revered as a hero and respected woman in her community she is a rare example of how a small, old lady who is illiterate can command such respect in a community. Her story shows an exceptionally strong woman of sheer courage and determination.
“I hope that the videos will empower other women, families and husbands so that they recognise the real benefit in women if you allow them to blossom.”
Jennifer Baing Waiko from Markham has a background in agriculture and speaks eloquently about her Cafe Niugini TV series, how she set up the Banana Festival in Morobe, which is taboo for a woman to do and her first attempt at being elected into local level government. The young Markham Pawa Meri comments: “I feel extremely privileged to have been involved in the project because there are a lot of Pawa Meris in PNG. I hope that the videos will empower other women, families and husbands so that they are willing to support the females in their families, see that they are hard workers and recognise the real benefit in women if you allow them to blossom.”
The final film set in Goroka focuses on Rita Karre, business owner of the Steakhouse. The film documents her determination to open her own restaurant and the devastation that is caused when it is burnt down but shows her resolve to revive her business and the excellent work that she is doing within the community, particularly with in mates at the local prison.
The six films launched in July with two successful events in Goroka and Port Moresby. Verena Thomas, Director of CSCM speaks proudly of the six women directors: “Apart from the amazing stories about the Pawa Meri characters that participated in the project, it has been great to see the directors taking on the challenge to produce high quality documentaries and contributing to the film industry in PNG. As a result of this, the Pawa Meri directors have themselves become role models for those who want to be involved in filmmaking, media production and the telling of stories. Having both dimensions of the project, firstly, telling inspiring PNG stories and secondly, having these captured and told by inspiring media professionals makes the project unique and I hope contributes to its sustainability in PNG and in the region.”