Wewak | Manu Peni (Project Sepik) | 26 May 2022
BLOG POST: Volunteer Journey with Project Sepik
The Frieda mine, which threatens our remarkable Sepik river, is part of a global push to extract more resources from our earth in the name of ‘development’. We have been building a movement to #SaveTheSepik for years. Our amazing volunteers are a crucial part of this.
They are young leaders who live and lead various community groups within their villages and larger areas along the Sepik River – many of whom have been with us since 2018.
Earlier this year, the Project Sepik team had an annual meeting with our volunteers in Korogu Village, located along the Sepik River. We yarned about the success of our campaign so far and shared experiences, knowledge, and memories.
It was very powerful to hear what the volunteers have learned from being a part of the #SaveTheSepik campaign. We’d like to share some of what they said with you. We hope that this will inspire you to keep building solidarity for our campaign across borders.
Some of the key takeaways the volunteers shared were:
- They expressed that they learned a lot of new information to share with their people about the Frieda Mine and the road Project Sepik took to stop the mine.
- The experiences broadened their understanding of issues happening behind the political scenes regarding the mine.
- They learnt about how organisations such as Project Sepik work to respond to such a problem.
- They learnt how to work as a team while being a leader in their own homes.
- They learnt about cultural leadership too through the Supreme Sukundimi Declaration work in which they understood that there are laws protecting, upholding and accepting their cultural practices.
In the words of one of the volunteers:
I learnt that my culture already has traditional values and principles which protect my environment, which we are protecting for the next generations to come.
One of the most important lessons was that they learnt that what they were doing as a group of volunteers is helping many people who live along the Sepik river:
I get to play an important role in saving the Sepik river and protecting my environment and culture. We get exposure nationally and internationally. Before Project Sepik, I did not think about the entire river but just my home. All my people keep saying that they do not want the mine. This is a revelation for me. I always thought it was just the people in my village who refused the mine. Now I know that everyone along the river is against the mine.
They learned about the laws that protect the environment and how harmful substances thrown into the river if the mine operates, can kill plants and animals.
I learnt that my land and river are important to me and are seen only as a resource by outsiders.
They learnt that they are only the guardians of everything around them. They have to take ownership of their fight and protect their current home, for themselves and for future generations.
The volunteers also shared the feeling of camaraderie, togetherness and solidarity. Many said that they have felt isolated and alone in their homes. They assumed that the Police or the Government would come for them, but with Project Sepik, they felt the strength of working together.
I have travelled and seen other villages and felt that they too do not want Frieda mine. With Project Sepik and all of us, we can be a strong force for our people.
The Volunteers reflected that they also believe that women leaders, women in the villages, have a mighty voice. They shared that the women who participated felt strongly about the river and their livelihoods.
With Project Sepik, I was able to organise women to be part of the movement. Post colonialism, organising women has been challenging but what we did at Angoram showed me that Women can be such a force to stop Frieda mine.
The reflection exercise showed that the volunteers had a great understanding of the issues, the fears and the concerns. It also showed that they have grown more confident in their leadership roles and their strength as a group.
We look forward to keep building our movement and ramp up our efforts to protect our international river, an icon and world heritage.