Papua New Guinea

Cheers, NZ: How New Zealand and the World Bank are changing lives in the Pacific

Cheers, NZ: How New Zealand and the World Bank are changing lives in the Pacific

New Zealand has a long history of supporting its close neighbors in the Pacific, both in times of disaster and emergencies, and to help improve the lives of many thousands across the region.

On Waitangi Day, the national day of New Zealand, we take a look at three key World Bank projects in the Pacific, and how New Zealand’s support has been integral to making them happen.

Papua New Guinea – Business Coalition for Women
Papua New Guinea’s Business Coalition for Women works with 59 companies (and counting) across PNG to highlight the value women bring to the workplace and to demonstrate how empowering women is not only the right thing to do; it’s smart business.

Set up as a joint initiative between the Governments of New Zealand, Australia and the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group), the coalition is already making great strides, with working groups set up to address gender-based violence, promote women for leadership positions, expand opportunities for women and develop workplace policies and practices that are helping to break down many of the barriers preventing women from furthering their careers in PNG’s business sector.

Kiribati – Pacific Aviation Investment Project
With 33 islands spread across 3.5 million km2 of ocean, Kiribati is one of the most remote countries on earth. This means safe and reliable air travel is absolutely essential to connect Kiribati to other Pacific Island countries, as well as to larger markets such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Air transport also provides critical emergency response for medical needs or natural disasters.

The government of New Zealand, together with the Governments of Australia, Kiribati and Taiwan, China, is supporting the Kiribati Aviation Investment Project. This project is financing the installation of navigational aids and communications equipment at Kiribati’s two international airports. Work is also being done on airport terminals, runway repairs and other safety, security and sustainability improvements, including four new fire trucks.  


A hanger for servicing planes at the airport on South Tarawa island, Kiribati

Vanuatu – Rural Electrification Project
Three-quarters of Vanuatu’s population lives in rural and remote areas, and very few have access to electricity through a grid network. Without grid access, families often use expensive diesel generators to get their electricity, and the Vanuatu Rural Electrification Project is working alongside the government to provide better access to affordable, reliable and sustainable electricity for the people of Vanuatu.

Through the project more than 87,000 people, and more than 2,200 community buildings, such as aid posts, clinics and community halls, will gain access to electricity. As part of the project over 1,000 ‘plug-and-play’ solar kits have already been supplied to communities in many of Vanuatu’s most remote areas. The second phase of this project is now also under preparation with an additional NZD5 million committed by the Government of New Zealand.

To learn more about these and other World Bank projects in the Pacific supported by New Zealand, Australia and other countries, visit, or follow us on Facebook for more stories and insights from across the Pacific Islands.

by · Monday, 6 February 2017 · Australia, China, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, Vanuatu
From immersion, to empathy, to action: is VR a game-changer for communicating development?

From immersion, to empathy, to action: is VR a game-changer for communicating development?

Former Bougainvillean combatant, now cocoa farmer, Timothy Konovai (right) tries out VR for the first time (Photo: World Bank / Alana Holmberg)
“Virtual reality”
in the 1990s.

Late last year, my team and I were asked to delve into the world of Virtual Reality (VR) to produce a series of 360-degree films for the World Bank focused on the issue of conflict across East Asia and Pacific. More than six months of production across four countries later, The Price of Conflict, The Prospect of Peace series is now complete, with stories from Solomon Islands, Bougainville (Papua New Guinea) and and Mindanao (Philippines).
Yet when I was first asked to work on this, my initial reaction to this project was to try and talk people out of it. I had vague memories from the early 1990s of dorky plastic helmets where people would awkwardly walk around a pixelated floating room, doing not much else besides provide amusement/bemusement for those watching from the outside. 

It wasn’t just these memories – nor the countless VR rollercoaster apps now flooding the App Stores – that clouded my opinion. Because clearly technology has made massive progress in the 20 years since, and many tout VR as the new frontier for how we will be entertained and informed. I’m first and foremost a believer that to tell a story truly well, the medium or technology should never be the most important thing; story should always come first. If the viewer/reader/consumer is thinking about the novelty of the cool tech they’re experiencing, then isn’t it actually just distracting them from the most important element; the story?
Seeing The Displaced in a Samsung Gear VR headset flipped my opinion. It opened my mind to the potential of VR storytelling. Yes, my initial minute watching this film was spent aware of the technology and the experience of having a 360-degree story told in front, behind and above me. But that awareness largely disappeared soon enough. I was quickly – to use the most frequently-used adjective associated with VR – immersed. I wasn’t just engaged because the events in the film were happening in a 360-degree format. I was more engaged, because within minutes I’d forgotten about the medium: I was integrated into it. I was ‘in’ the scene, floating up through those marshes in South Sudan.
The Displaced, and similar films such as Clouds Over Sidra, Waves of Grace, The Source or Collisions shows the potential for storytelling in this new medium, particularly for documentary and real-life storytelling. They’ve demonstrated that the VR medium can deepen the understanding of the viewer by putting them in the scene; bringing them closer to the reality than the traditional storytelling mediums we’re accustomed to.
More specifically, it’s the area that I work in – aid, development and humanitarian response – that gets me most excited about the potential of VR. Aid organisations are generally fairly skilled at bridging the gap between the work on the ground – the communities, conflicts or disasters they work in – and your average person living in a developed country. Yet it’s an incredibly crowded market. Each day thousands of organisations are competing for their share of air time on countless issues and causes. Consumers are justified in feeling tired or cynical.

Josh Flavell (The Price of Conflict Cinematographer) and Chris Panzetta (Director) set up a 360-degree shot under the Bougainvillea
in Oria village, Konnou, in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. (Photo: World Bank / Alana Holmberg)

VR and immersive 360-degree storytelling provides a way to cut out the noise and put consumers closer to reality on the ground in some of the world’s toughest and most extraordinary places than they’re ever likely to have the opportunity to do. We can never truly understand what life is like for a Syrian, Ukrainian or South Sudanese refugee child, but The Displaced helped people to connect with that experience in a profound way.
But it’s now the next step – beyond connecting people and creating empathy – that’s the key challenge: how do we ensure the immersive experience of VR inspires genuine action? Initial results across the sector are encouraging. UNICEF has reported that when Clouds Over Sidra has been screened as part of its face-to-face fundraising efforts, it’s seen a conversion rate from donors go from one in 10-13, to one in five or six. charity:water, with its VR film The Source, likewise has reported similarly impressive returns.
Our The Price of Conflict series is primarily targeted at senior government and institutional decision-makers, and the precedents in this space are similarly exciting. In a recent video on the UN’s push into VR, the UN’s Gabo Arora, the founder of UNVR Lab, says the impact of Clouds Over Sidra on the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2015 and the recent International Pledging Conference on Syria was significant; the latter seeing twice the funding to what was projected:
“When the film debuted in Davos, it was a sensation to everyone we showed it to. They come out of it very deeply moved. I’d say half the people who watch Clouds Over Sidra cry. …The film was then integrated with the Secretary General in the Kuwait pledging conference for Syria. He made everyone at the reception of the pledging conference watch it. And it really made a big difference in getting people to pledge more, to care more, and to be more involved.”
While time will tell on the impact of our films, the initial response to screenings of The Price of Conflict have been encouraging, with viewers repeatedly telling us the experience has changed their perception of conflict and recovery from it:

“I felt like I was right there… [with] the participants, learning about what the problems they’re experiencing were, and how our interventions could support real change in their lives,” said one delegate.
“It’s as close to being on a field trip as I’ve ever been. It’s bringing you there,” said another.

This last comment from one of our viewers is important to consider, given the potential outlay for producing VR content is likely a challenge for development communicators to get over the line, as recognised by UNICEF’s David Cravinho. Yet when compared to the cost of potentially taking donors on field visits, the value stacks up quickly, even before security and other logistical challenges are taken into consideration.
The final challenge ahead, however, seems to be the biggest hurdle: actually getting people to take the time to watch VR films in their genuine 360-degree VR form; to get them into the space, cut out the noise and normal distractions and commit to the film in its true experience. Samsung deserves credit for pushing their Gear VR headsets so strongly to help spread 360-degree content, and Google Cardboard (and now, Google Daydream) offer a relatively cheap solution for anyone with a new-ish smartphone.
With the VR 360 medium continuing to push further into the mainstream, the challenge for us, as content makers, is to make must-see content that audiences will want to take the time to completely cut themselves off from the outside world to watch. Because once they do, then VR’s impact has the potential to be life-changing.

The first three The Price of Conflict, The Prospect of Peace VR films are now online:


by · Thursday, 10 November 2016 · Kuwait, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Syria
Papua New Guinea: Improving literacy in Bougainville, one step at a time

Papua New Guinea: Improving literacy in Bougainville, one step at a time

Students from Aravira Primary School in central Bougainville, Papua New Guinea on their walk to school – which for some, takes up to four hours 

After a two-hour drive from the nearest main road, our 4WD can travel no further; me and my travelling companions will have to trek the rest of our journey to Aravira Primary School in Bougainville on foot. As we set off, a group of students from the school emerge from the bush in front of us. They smile, extend their hands in welcome and immediately offer to take my backpack. 

I politely refuse, yet within minutes I regret my decision to turn down help. As we move through the long grass along the mountain ridge, the heat which a few minutes ago was manageable is now unbearable. I’m pouring in sweat. My backpack feels 10 kilograms heavier, and the ground beneath me feels as if I’m stepping onto ice. Ten minutes into our journey, I lose my feet, slip into a crevice, and land face-first in the nearest bush.

As I’m helped back onto my feet by the kids, I ask them how much further we have to go to get to the school. They giggle, then simply start walking again. I discover soon enough that the answer to my question is ‘two and half gruelling hours.’ This is a seriously hard trek, clearly not for the faint of heart.

An hour later, I struggle up the next ridge, hiking boots still soakedfrom yet another river crossing, and it really hits me; this is their daily walk to school.

Aravira Primary School is located deep in the Bougainvillemountains. It’s a remote, picturesque spot, and is home to 120 students from Aravira and Remsi, the two communities located within ‘walking distance’ of the school. Yet given the school is at least four hours’ journey from the nearest town, Chairman Henry Topowa tells me after I arrive that ‘walking distance’ is a relative concept up here.

“Access by road is very difficult. Both communities are quite far from the school, so the students have to walk a fair distance and cross rivers to come each day to school,” Henry explains. “When it rains, we have to send the children home because of the weather, because it’s very risky in certain areas.”

Henry says that for those coming to the school from beyond the two nearest communities, it’s an even bigger challenge.

“A lot of people here, especially the teachers, travel back and forth on foot. It takes between four to five hours by foot. If we travel into town as early as 6am, we usually arrive back in the village around 9pm or even 10 pm.”

Due to this remoteness, my travelling companions and I are the first non-Bougainvillean visitors to the school in over a year. Yet this is not an unusual story across much of the country. An estimated 60% of Papua New Guineans live in rural areas, which in Bougainville means they’re likely living in dense, mountainous jungle or in small villages dotted along the coastline. In these areas, servicessuch as schools and medical clinics are few and far between, a fact further compounded by the island’s ten-year conflict that saw tens of thousands of families living in hiding in the bush for much of the 1990s. 

This remoteness and decades of limited opportunity has driven the students and teachers at Aravira – and many schools just like it – to push for better education, including through the World Bank-supported READ PNG project. In addition to training more than24,000 teachers, the project has seen the establishment of 21,000 classroom libraries filled with around 1.1 million books to schools across PNG.

And having made the brutal trek in to Aravira Primary School, I ask School Chairman Henry Topowa about the challenge of delivering hundreds of books to a place so remote. He beams with pride when he recounts the story.

“The road was muddy and slippery. We crossed a river along the way which was flooding. We had to balance ourselves carrying the books over an unsteady wooden bridge at the river,” Henry tells me.

“It was raining and we were scared that the books would get wet, so we cut banana leaves and placed them over the box of books and onto our shoulders. Others placed them in bilums [a woven bag, common across PNG] and carried them on their backs. It was veryhard.”

Henry is steadfast in his belief in the power of education on the lives of the students at his school. 

“Literacy is very important in the community; teaching people to read and write is vital, because a lot of kids here during the crisis did not go to school and are only just now learning to read and write.”

Aravira’s Head Teacher Herman Parito says that even before the books arrived, the community deeply understood the value of reading, and therefore are all willing to do their part to support it.

“The community here are always willing to help. When I said we needed labor to build classroom libraries, they did it. We brought in the plywood needed to build the mini libraries, and the parents responded.”

He adds that since the READ PNG books came in mid-2015, he’s already seen their impact.

“We’ve been using the books for two terms now and I’ve seen a big improvement in students reading according to their test results.”

After our chat, Henry and Herman then invite me to a class to see the new books for myself. As I’m introduced to the class, the confusion I expect of seeing a stranger in class is largely absent. I get a few grins and a couple of giggles, but beyond that, most of the students are focused squarely on their books.

Considering the hard work it took to get those books here and into these students’ hands, it’s no surprise that they’re so committed to soaking up every word in those pages.

Improving Literacy in Remote Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, One Step at a Time


by · Wednesday, 7 September 2016 · Papua New Guinea