The recent popularity of Kokoda has spawned a new breed of ‘trekking Samaritans’ who plan to use the experience to raise money for various charities in Australia.
While the cause is always noble, and the individual is often well intentioned, there is some irony in the fact that we seek to use a track in a third world country to raise funds for a cause in our ‘land of plenty‘.
There is no doubt these new ‘trekking samaritans’ know little about the plight of our neighbours in Papua New Guinea before they land in the country. However it is difficult to understand how anybody can spend a couple of nights in Port Moresby, then trek across the rugged Owen Stanley Ranges, and not observe the subsistence needs of local people.
One can only wonder at their power of observation during their Kokoda experience.
- Did they drive around Port Moresby with their eyes closed?
- Did they not communicate with their PNG guides during their trek?
- Did they not observe the lack of basic health and education facilities in the villages they passed through?
- Did they not learn about the ravages of HIV/AIDS/Malaria in the country?
- Did they not think it might be a good idea to share the benefits of their fundraising efforts with a similar charity in PNG?
- Or do their own ‘feel-good’ needs blind them to the plight of our closest neighbour, wartime ally, former mandated territory and fellow Commonwealth member?
Others who trek with their eyes wide open realise that at least half of any funds they raise should remain in Papua New Guinea.
There is no shortage of desperate worthy causes in PNG. Unfortunately, it is not easy to ensure the money they raise will be directed towards the cause they nominate in Papua New Guinea. The Kokoda Track Authority, which was established to manage the track, does not have the capacity to facilitate the distribution and monitoring of funds received for local charitable purposes.
A lack of capacity and lack of governance within the Kokoda Track Authority is therefore denying needy villagers of the opportunity to benefit from trekkers who would be more than willing to provide ongoing assistance after they return to Australia.
If we are therefore dinkum in our desire to help our closest neighbour, former mandated territory, wartime ally and fellow Commonwealth member we should endeavour to ensure they get to share the benefits of any fundraising conducted in Australia. But before this can happen authorities in Papua New Guinea have a responsibility to ensure sufficient resources and procedures are put in place to facilitate the transfer of benefits to the intended cause.