This city is not an easy one to live in. It is ranked about 136 out of 140 in the Economists liveability index. Street crime is rife, car jackings are frequent and sexual assaults on women, and children, are all too common. These children live on the fringes of this society trying to scrape together money through begging, selling or petty theft. There are no orphans in Papua New Guinea. A strong tribal tradition ensures that all children have some kind of place in what is known as the ‘Wantok’ system. This translates literally as ‘those who talk like me’ and is one of the strongest affiliations that Papua New Guineans feel. Unfortunately in a big city like Port Moresby it is harder to maintain care for all the Wantoks because of the high cost of living and limited accommodation, so these children become marginalised. Culturally children are allowed more freedom, back home in their village they would be free to wander after dark and so here children as young as eight can be found sleeping rough and wandering the streets. Sadly they are very vulnerable to illness and violence and are missing out on education because no one ensures they go to school. They are highly likely to join the violent gangs of ‘Raskols’ that can be found in Port Moresby and many find themselves arrested and imprisoned in Bomana correctional centre.
In the run up to the Pacific Games there were calls to remove these children from the street. They don’t make PNG look good, they steal bags and break into parked cars. Unlike many countries, however, the approach has been more compassionate than simply rounding them up and taking them elsewhere. Groups of volunteers have been cooking meals for them, bringing clothes and encouraging them to attend school and other activities. The Governor of the capital city has funded programs for them, including the activity tonight. This group meet after dark in the floodlights of the local rugby field to learn yoga and practice acrobatics. They are highly skilled, and surprisingly disciplined considering their background. They are performing for some of the photographers from the Pacific Games and they have put on a great show. Allan’s organisation ‘Yoga Unites’ aims to improve self-discipline and reduce violent behaviour through yoga and meditation and they are fundraising to open a regular soup kitchen and literacy program after the games have ended.
There has been some talk of putting them in the opening ceremony or asking them to give displays in between the sporting activities but this is PNG and things don’t always run to plan. Despite this they are relentlessly practicing and rehearsing their routines. Tonight we even have some of the younger children copying the acrobatics and performing their own yoga moves on the side lines. These young people are so polite and respond enthusiastically to my offer to wash some things for them. As I left the field and loaded their yoga uniforms into the car I felt privileged to have seen tonight’s performance , and to have had the chance to spend time with these lovely , committed and hard-working young people.