After graduating high school, many high school leavers choose to go on a schoolies trip to unwind, relax and well… celebrate. My trip was perhaps a little out of the ordinary, but exceptionally rewarding and life changing.
I chose to visit Papua New Guinea, to immerse myself in the local culture and language, and help out some of the local people. During my 18 day trip I stayed and assisted volunteers at the Summer Institute of linguistics (SIL). Papua New Guinea is a nation with an estimated 820 languages, many of which are barely notated with the residents relying on tok pisin (pigeon English) or English to communicate, read, write and understand other Papua New Guineans.
One of the main roles that SIL has, is to translate the Bible in local languages so that they can fully understand what they are reading and ultimately what they believe. This also includes educating people to read and interpret their own language.
During my visit, we focused upon Ramoaaina, the language belonging to the people from the Duke of York Islands (off the coast of East New Britain). While visiting on this beautiful island, I helped to compile and deliver handmade books in the local language, visited schools to teach children about Australia, contributed to local Church services, assisted them to learn English and engaged as part of a team in developing public relations with the local communities.
It is often the case that minority groups face very particular challenges and injustices. Only a few thousand people speak the Romoaaina language but that has no correlation with how important they are as a community of Papua New Guinea. The biggest thing I’ve learnt while away was that all cultures are important. We must be careful not to assume that we have all the answers to the world’s problems, or the challenges faced by minority groups simply because they are few, or because we are lucky enough to live in a country with fewer challenges. Seeing the joy on people’s faces as we tried to speak their language, their amusement at our attempts at scraping coconuts, and the joy on the children’s faces as we helped them to understand how important their language and culture is, helped to illustrate this to me.
To me, it became clear that when communicating with others, you need an appreciation of their culture, live in respect of their way of life, valuing their collective history and culture, and working with them rather than trying to solve all their problems.
This year I am beginning the Bachelor of Speech, Hearing and Language Sciences after gaining entry through the Global Leadership Entry Program (GLEP). Through GLEP I have been able to have my trip considered in my experiential credit. This experience has allowed me to be inspired and intrigued by the international significance of language and communication across the world. I’m now keen to start my degree and explore the greater possibilities, education and challenges that university and the GLP have to offer.
Words by Anne Spragg.