A Focus on Women: From Helping Make Women Safe to Mapping People Living in Drains

 

Born in Fiji, Alicia joined BSP Papua New Guinea in 2011. She has been the driving force behind a unique safe house concept since 2014 initially aiming to assist BSP female staff.  Alicia persuaded BSP in 2015 to donate a building and land for the facility and took a strong personal interest in rehabilitating the premises to operate as a safe house providing case management and counselling services to survivors of family and sexual violence. Now she is pursuing another passion project in her spare time, the Baret Project. Baret means drain in pidgin. Her aim is to map the people living in drains in Port Moresby and establish the help they need to get out of a life in the drain.

Q. How would you describe your work?

The core area of my work in the BSP is Properties and Facilities Management and the rather interesting part of my job is recreating new spaces whether it is for banking purposes or commercial office spaces and finding solutions that are unique to the challenges we are faced with in PNG.

My day to day work also allows me access to witness the struggles of everyday Papua New Guineans which further drives me and keeps me motivated to do something that can improve lives.

Through a new passion project of mine, which I have named Baret Project, I have been mapping out the people living in the drains of Port Moresby. This is self-funded at this point in time. Since October 2018, with the help of friends and colleagues, we have mapped out two drains and we are now in our third drain. To date we have recorded 118 people living in the drain and they have all been victims of violence and abuse. After visiting those living in the drains, I have come to realise that violence and abuse does not discriminate; children, youths, women and men all experience it.

Q. You were instrumental in setting up the first safe house for women from the private sector. What inspired you to work on that?

I was brought up in a household of strong thinking independent women despite our low socioeconomic background. My grandmother was a seamstress. I have experienced firsthand what struggle looks like through the eyes of a child and the importance of women earning a living.

In the first couple of months of my employment in BSP, I let a female staff go due to absenteeism as per our policy only to find out later that as a result of domestic violence she unable to attend work. I really set out in this journey to ensure women do not lose employment as a result of family and sexual violence.

With community one of BSP’s core values, our Group CEO, Robin Fleming made the decision to provide help and assistance to those in our BSP family who are survivors of family and sexual violence. His belief in this project galvanized for me that the need is seen and that help is possible.

From initial work back in 2016, the idea expanded and the initiative is now known as Bel isi PNG. It has been made possible through support from the Business Coalition for Women (BCWF), International Finance Corporation (IFC), and major collaborating partners such as Oil Search Foundation, BCFW, Steamships and Australian and PNG government’s Pacific Women Program.[1]

Q. How much of a problem is family and sexual violence against women in PNG?

In trying to understand the issue of family and sexual violence in PNG, I researched extensively and I read a report by Human Rights Watch which suggested two thirds of the women in PNG faced some sort of violence and the disturbing part of the report was that 80 percent of the men interviewed claimed to have perpetrated sexual violence against women.

Q. From your work on ensuring there’s a safe house for women to mapping people living in drains – what inspires you to do this?

I am grateful for the life I have in PNG and the opportunity that is here to help people who are less fortunate. I believe anyone, if they are willing to sacrifice personal time, with the right intentions, can make a difference. Hence the slogan for Baret “the time you give can change a life.”

Anyone that we can help immediately, we take action. There is one boy, just 14 years old, who has been homeless since 2017. We found him in the first drain we entered in October, 2018. Within a month we found him a temporary home and he was re-united with his family in December, 2018.  He has just started schooling through the funding support I provide. Another 9 year old boy whom we found in the 3rd drain is also starting school through the projects support.

Q. Looking to the future, what do you see as important for the future of the Pacific?

A s a Pacific Islander and a Melanesian woman, and since women are largely victims of family and sexual violence, I do believe that if we teach our sons to respect women and our daughters to stand up for themselves, we will see a change in our cultural mentality. Many may call me naïve to have such a view but I think if we all tried our best and not actively find reasons to oppose this, we would improve the future of our children one step at a time..