A NEW focus on domestic violence in Papua New Guinea has revealed the Church at the forefront of providing for child victims.
In a country where Human Rights Watch estimates 70 per cent of women are raped during their lifetime, the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen has built a care centre for vulnerable children, which its Australian designer says could be duplicated across the country.
News of the project comes as the 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty travelled to PNG to fire up domestic violence survivors and encourage them to change from victims to victors.
Ms Batty visited Lae, PNG’s second-biggest city, to share her story of trauma and healing following the murder of her 11-year-old son Luke at the hands of his father.
“All our journeys are different but some things are the same, and we can get strength from each other, because we understand in ways other people never can,” Ms Batty, a guest of the organisation Femili PNG, said.
Femili PNG receives aid from the Australian Government and the private sector.
It works hand-in-hand with police and helps rescued women access appropriate services, such as safe houses, and assists them to navigate court processes.
In the PNG highlands the Mt Hagen archdiocese is completing a home at Ulga, close to Mt Hagen, to care for vulnerable children forced out of the family home and onto the streets.
The St Mary’s home, due to be opened this month, will provide accommodation, meals, education and general care for about 15 “at risk” children caught up in marriage breakdowns, physical and sexual abuse, poverty and sorcery, which is common in PNG.
In charge of the centre is Society of Our Most Holy Trinity Sister Mary Corpus Chrisiti Banas whose vision is to “Let the children come to me”, and for “the home to be a place of love, safety and refuge in the arms of Jesus through his body, the Church”.
The project architect and chief fundraiser Sydney-based John O’Brien said the goal was to provide crisis care and longer-term services for vulnerable children and to help them gain an identity.
The centre will offer health care, a literacy program, spiritual formation and personal development.
The project cost $300,000 including the renovation of an existing building.
Mr O’Brien said the centre could be duplicated in other towns by using demountable structures.
“Domestic violence is a huge problem in PNG’s male-dominated society,” he said.
“This is a starting point to what can happen.
“The St Mary’s Home for Vulnerable Children has emerged out of a response by the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen to Pope Francis’ ‘call to action’ following on from the Year of Mercy.”
Mr O’Brien, who works on a range of Church projects in PNG including Mt Hagen’s new cathedral, a new teachers’ college chapel and secondary school facilities, said international financial support was needed to push ahead with projects like St Mary’s.
During her visit, Ms Batty reflected on the long road ahead for PNG women.
She met with a team of two child protection workers in Lae who are grappling with a caseload in the thousands.
“In Australia there are child protection workers burnt out and overwhelmed, and they would only have hundreds of cases on their file,” she said.