Eyeglass Assist

Solomon Islands Project


Title: Thrown in the Deep End

Location : Gigila Island, PNG

Year : 2010

Late one afternoon after work had been completed for the day on the school we were sitting back in the cockpit when a young man paddled up in his dugout and asked if he could come aboard. Of course we said, please do. He asked if there was anyway we could do to help him. He had a satchel with him and proceeded to explain his situation.

 In PNG as in many of island nations there are several levels of government as well as several levels in being able to deal with legal issues and disputes that arise within the community. The most basic official level is where a person is nominated to be a magistrate and once appointed to this position he is then able to administer the relevant Act that sets out exactly what sort of matter the magistrate may deal with and what powers he has and what penalties he can impose. They are generally only small scale disputes that do not involve any criminal behaviour, such as disputed land use or damage to someone's garden by someone else's pig, what we would call "civil disputes".

Our new friend's problem was that he had been nominated and subsequently voted to be the village magistrate, all without his consent or knowledge. And had no idea whatsoever as to what he was supposed to do or how but for some unknown reason the community felt he should know what he had to do. He could read but that wasn't so unusual in PNG. He had been given no training or support from the government, other than being provided with a used copy of the relevant Act that he was supposed to administer (not that he really understood it, who could blame him?) and he was concerned that he would not not do a good job and therefore his level of respect and his status in the village would be badly affected. He was deeply concerned about his predicament and rightly felt that what he needed was training from the government, not an unreasonable request. He had asked one of the teachers to write a letter on his behalf in English but although the teacher was more or less fluent in spoken English, his written skills were not particularly good. The letter that the teacher had written was a valiant attempt but he also suffered from the same dilemma as our friend and the letter was more or less incomprehensible.

After spending a couple of hours with him and finding out exactly what it was that he wanted and what he believed was available and the process involved in obtaining assistance, I typed out a letter on my laptop, printed it out on our printer that evening and delivered it to him the next day. He was very grateful but still, I think it unlikely he ever received any training. I wish him the best of luck in his new profession.

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