My partner and I can honestly say that living in Papua New Guinea since early 2016 has been a life-changing blessing in so many unexpected ways. We came here because of work, and both now recognise that you cannot live in a third world country without being changed forever. Papua New Guinea and its people find their way into your heart!
Shortly after arriving, we had the pleasure of meeting Mary, a beautiful and gentle soul. Mary was very kind to me in my first weeks in the country and she quickly became a special friend who would patiently and generously answer my questions about our new home, its people and culture. Over the period of a few months, and prompted by my inquisitiveness, Mary shared with me her story.
Mary and I are a very similar age but there are precious few other similarities. She separated from her husband after 25 years of marriage when she left Port Moresby to travel to her village in Oro Province to be with her eldest son who fell ill and died of complications from a chronic illness. She left six other children in the care of her husband’s family. While away, she decided that she would not return to a marriage and a life that had been marred by domestic violence. Her face and her arms are scarred from stab wounds inflicted by her husband.
Mary returned to Port Moresby and lived under her nephew’s home on a dirt floor in a small space that you cannot stand up in, with no running water and no electricity. She took nothing from her marriage home, and prayed that she would find work and be able to, over time, create a home environment that she could share with her children. Mary’s children visited her regularly and her two youngest children, Hannah (aged 8) and Max (aged 9) lived with her.
Not really understanding her living situation fully, we talked to her about helping her to rent a room/s in a house with running water and electricity closer to work. She felt safe in her community and preferred not to move, despite it being some walking distance and two bus rides to work.
Soon Mary generously invited us to her community to meet her nephew and his family and her children. It was our first experience entering a PNG national community, and it was certainly eye opening! What struck us most was not so much the poverty, although that was plainly obvious, but how welcoming the community and, in particular, Mary’s family and friends were.
It was on seeing Mary and her children’s home for the first time that we made a silent vow to do something to improve her situation. Quite simply, we have always felt that those who have more than they need should share what they have with those who don’t have enough. Although we have never felt this as strongly and as profoundly as we do now.
To cut a long story short(ish), for what would be the cost of a holiday to us, we were able to buy the materials to build a home for Mary and provision it. Mary’s nephew gifted her a piece of his land, and he and members of her community rallied around her, her family and us, and built her a beautiful home (often working from dawn until dusk). It was a delight to witness the build week by week, and experience the anticipation and joy on Mary’s children’s face.
Mary and her family moved into her new home in late 2016, following a traditional ‘open house’ celebration that included the Pastor and the Head of the Church, the Chairman of her community, Mary’s extended family and friends, and I think all of the children from across the community. (I know because they all queued politely for a slice of the cake that I was a cutting!)
The most incredible outcome though is that all of Mary’s children, and her grandson, are now living with her in her new home, as well as her daughter-in-law, Seniorita, and Mary’s two little grandchildren who have moved from Popondetta to Port Moresby. Mary is delighted to be able to honour the memory of her eldest son by giving a permanent home to his family.
Of course, Mary and her family are very grateful for their new home, but we honestly feel that it is us who are truly grateful. We feel blessed in immeasurable ways to have been welcomed into Mary’s life and the lives of her children, her extended family and her community.
Our experience here has forced us to reflect upon the encouragement, optimism and positive expectations and reinforcement that we experienced in our own formative years; the opportunities that we have been afforded throughout our lives both in education and professionally; the success that we have been able to achieve with this strong foundation; and everything that has brought us. It is hard not to feel incredibly humble and blessed, and also to recognize that this is all an accident of birth.
Now, rather than buy gifts for our family at special times, we have decided to use the money that we would normally spend to continue to improve the lives of others. We hope that having heard a little of Mary’s story, you may consider doing the same.
Made by Mary
Soon after her arrival in Papua New Guinea in early 2016, Dawn Robinson realised that the heat dictated a new dress code. She expressed the need for more simple, cool A-line summer dresses, and Mary offered to make them, as in a former job she had learned how to use a hand-operated sewing machine. Dawn soon saw the opportunity to assist Mary by purchasing a machine for her use as payment for the dresses, and Dawn was able to bring in some suitable pieces of bright and beautiful fabric from a visit to Australia.
Together they drafted patterns for the first dresses based on ones Dawn currently owned, and soon both women were wearing them, and receiving comments and requests for something similar. And so the label ‘Made by Mary’ was born.
Dawn has also assisted Mary to find ways of utilising the off-cuts of material, and they are now appearing as headbands, cloth-covered bead necklaces and more.
In February this year Mary held her first pop-up shop in an office foyer, and staff were keen to purchase as well as place orders for more items. When the pop-up shop closed for the day, Dawn totalled the sales, and told Mary the figure. She had earned the equivalent of $375 in 1.5 hours, normally a month’s wages, and amongst tears of surprise and delight Mary said, “I was a nobody.”
The future holds more plans for the expansion of Made for Mary, with Mary at the forefront, ably assisted by her children who get involved in production after school hours. Ideas are flowing and more products are planned – girls’ dresses; wide-leg trousers; quartz necklaces; detailing on jeans, and more.
Dawn’s family and friends now also assist Mary and her family by donating children’s clothes and purchasing some of the Made by Mary products. The next major pop-up shop is scheduled for mid-year and includes a range of resin bracelets donated by Dawn’s friend who owns ‘Me and Maggie’ and sells her resin jewellery at the Eumundi markets in Queensland.
Dawn’s driving force is to enable Mary to build a sustainable business, and her role in Mary’s business is many-faceted. She brings a creative mind, a flair for fashion, an understanding of the customers’ needs, business strategy and a true entrepreneurial mind. Mary is learning about business sustainability, and is investing back into her micro-business.
Made by Mary is also demonstrating to PNG nationals and ex-pats alike that there are a wealth of benefits for all when they work together to improve local enterprise.
Contact Dawn at Made by Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org.