Papua New Guinea
From Peace Corps Wiki
Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of New Guinea--the second largest island in the world. The country gained its independence from Australia in 1975. Papua New Guinea currently has a relatively stable democratic system of government. This country of 600 separate islands has a combined landmass of 462,840 square kilometers. Papua New Guinea lies north of Australia and is part of the cultural group known as Melanesia. Originally named “Ilhas dos Papuas”--Island of the Fuzzy Hair--by early Portuguese explorers, the country was later named New Guinea by early Dutch explorers as it reminded them of Guinea in Africa. The climate of Papua New Guinea varies from extremely hot and humid in the lowlands and island provinces to cool in the higher altitude Highland provinces. A third of the country’s 4.2 million people live in the Highlands.
The rugged topography of Papua New Guinea has greatly limited the exposure of Papua New Guineans to the outside world and to each other. Many different cultures have evolved due to the isolation created by rugged terrain. There are nearly 800 separate languages in Papua New Guinea. English is the official language, although Tok Pisin--a Pidgin English--has become the commonly spoken language. Although the country is changing fast, the majority of people remain dependent on subsistence agriculture and live in small villages. Many aspects of their daily life follow tradition and the social structure remains intact. The “wantok” system (literally “one talk” or kin speaking the same language) impacts every level of Papua New Guinea culture. Every Papua New Guinean is bound by a set of duties and obligations to their wantok and they receive reciprocal entitlements in return. Members of a wantok can expect to be housed and fed by their kin but are also expected to contribute to their community. Reciprocity is the tenet of Melanesian generosity.
The 1998 United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index ranks Papua New Guinea 129 out of 173 countries. While the country is rich in natural resources, its wealth is shared by few. Development has been hindered by the diversity of languages and cultures and by the isolation that has historically existed among communities in Papua New Guinea.
A Synopsis of the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea
Peace Corps Volunteers have been serving in Papua New Guinea for 19 years. The first group, consisting of nine Volunteers, worked on two projects: fisheries and rural community development (RCD). Over the years, Volunteers have worked in health, small business development, and youth projects. At the time of the OIG review, there were 56 Volunteers (15 married couples, nine single females, and 17 single males) working in 12 of the 20 provinces in education and rural community development.
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