Looking to make a difference in a tropical location not in the Caribbean? You can’t get much closer to the equator from an island than on the country of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in Oceania. PNG occupies the eastern half of New Guinea, the second largest island in the world. The indigenous people of PNG are one of the most heterogeneous around, having 2000+ small communities, each with unique languages and traditions. The local people have remained isolated from each other for thousands of years because of the island’s densely forested and rugged terrain. Nearly 85% of the island is covered in tropical rainforest!
PNG is highly dependent on financial assistant. Despite its close ties with Australia and the country’s generous annual contributions in foreign aid, a number of volunteers are needed to provide help in education, health, and development projects across the country. Whatever your skills set, there is a need for your assistance.
Volunteers are needed in PNG to work in the area of education; it is advised that individuals who pursue these opportunities take some time to learn the local language of the school community. The most commonly spoken languages in PNG are Chuukese, Kosraean, and Mortiockeese, among others. Teachers are needed to impart their knowledge, expertise, and skills to students of a variety of ages and school subjects. Volunteers sometimes help implement literacy programs, play sports with children, or give counseling to orphaned children.
There is a major shortage of trained medical professionals on the island of PNG, not to mention that in recent years, the available medical equipment has become outdated and of poor quality. To make matters worse, because PNG’s population stretches across rugged terrain and many islands, the medical situation is made worse. Volunteers are needed to contribute to the more isolated areas and the outer islands. PNG’s development is further threatened as the population is increasingly suffering from HIV/AIDS. Volunteers can help teach the population about AIDS/HIV prevention in addition to providing medication to those afflicted.
Papua New Guinea is extremely biodiverse, mountainous, and rich in natural resources. As development projects move forward, careful planning and attention need to be given to the ecosystems on the island. Unfortunately, mining projects have lead to an increase in water and air pollution and there is a great concern for deforestation. Volunteers are needed to conserve the forests of PNG; you can work to promote biodiversity and a sustainable use of resources. By teaching others about the environment and ways to preserve it, we can all work together to end deforestation. Interact directly with communities to brainstorm alternative sustainable habits and practices within their own local forest areas.
Be sure to check the calendar before starting a volunteer trip in PNG. Rainy season runs from November to March and the islands get pretty soggy! The best way to volunteer is to really interact with the locals, so be sure to select a program that allows you to cultivate relationships with Papua New Guineans while you are spending time there. One of the many islands off the coast of PNG will make a great volunteering destination if you desire to be more immersed in the local culture. These types of programs are reserved for the truly adventurous as you will be quite secluded from your typical "civilization" while fulfilling volunteer roles in the area.
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Papua New Guinea
It is recommended that all volunteers opt to purchase a travel insurance policy to cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuations. As the health care facilities in PNG are adequate for routine problems and some emergencies, they remain very basic. Even hospitals in the capital city of Port Moresby are of poor quality by western standards.
For individuals looking to volunteer for an extended period of time, consider purchasing malarial medication prior to arrival. As many mosquito-borne diseases due occur on the island, it is best to be prepared and take care in avoiding mosquito bites.
It is always advised to take safety precautions when traveling, and a good use of common sense should keep you out of trouble in Papua New Guinea. As with any country, stick to well lit streets and avoid drawing too much attention to yourself.
Contributed by Megan Lee