Melanesian Institute at Goroka

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In February this year, Sr. Celine Sinipo took up work at the Education and Research Department of the Melanesian Institute at Goroka. Here she shares some of her recent experiences:

The Melanesian Institute had been chosen among two other research institutes in the country to undertake a baseline assessment in the selected Village court Areas in three focus provinces: Eastern Highlands, Simbu and Western Highlands. Roll-out training for all 292 Village Courts in the 18 Districts of the three Provinces is to be held in this year (2017), to improve the attitudes, skills and competences of the Village Court Officials (VCOs) – to effectively handle cases of Women, Children and other vulnerable groups, including referrals for services. It is expected that this programme will lead to (1) an increase in awareness of children and women’s rights by VCOs (2) better understanding by VCOs of their jurisdiction (3) increased demand, with more family and children’s cases being reported to the Village Courts (VCs) (4) more serious and sexual violence cases referred to District Courts, Police and other services such as Family Support centers and health facilities. Therefore, prior to this roll-out training, the Village Court Land Mediation and Secretariat (VCLMS) had selected Melanesian Institute to conduct a baseline assessment in the designated locations in the above mentioned provinces.

On the 18th of April the Melanesian Institute Research Team (MIRT) led by Br. Martin Tnines Svd and Fr. Joel Bernando (Vincentian) began outlining our questionnaires for the in-depth interviews and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs). It took us two solid days to complete this tiring work due to most of the team being new to this kind of research work.
We, the Research Team are really grateful to both our team leaders: Br. Martin and Fr. Joel, for giving us this opportunity to engage in preparing the questionnaires, interview/survey forms and data entry templates; all are new learning’s for most of us.
After the completion of the above mentioned tools, we had a day training on how to conduct and record the interviews and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), including ethical considerations, followed by a trial of the interview/survey tools in the first Village Court Area in Goroka Urban (Fieldwork). After conducting the interviews and FGDs in the selected VCs in both Urban and Rural VCs in E.H.P we preceded onto Simbu where we spent only two days because of our familiarity with the questionnaires in E.H.P, hence we were able to make our fieldwork much faster in these two provinces.
Our plan for Simbu and Hagen was to do the field work for at least two to three weeks but thanks be God, all was organized very well by the Provincial Village Court Officials and the District Court Officials of these two Provinces.
It took us almost 7-8 weeks to undertake this baseline assessment including the training period and the fieldwork.
Lots of new learning’s and insights for me personally, and while doing the interviews, I could really feel for these VCOs who work hard day in and day out in their unique positions, listening to disputes locally, reaching settlements quickly and operating according to customs, their community members understand. The Government fails to understand their situation and overlook their needs and concerns to have proper VC houses and facilities needed to provide and improve their services. In most VCs, the courts sessions are done in an open space which can be at times very risky, hence when interviewed, many of these VCOs raised the need for having proper VC houses for security purposes as well as user-friendly environment for the community to access the VC. Most of them expressed that even though they aren’t on payroll, they continue to carry out their job because of their love for the community to live in peace and harmony with each other. Some of them walk long distances to go to the VC area to hear court cases. At times they do experience having sleepless nights especially when dealing with serious or sensitive cases.
Therefore, we hope and pray that, after our final report to the Village Court Land Mediation and Secretariat and the Department of Justice and Attorney General will be able to make some changes in the VC system.
And I am privileged to have joined the MIRT to conduct such a survey which is first of its kind for the Melanesian Institute and I am grateful that I have learned a lot while doing this research.
Sr. Celine Sinipo Ssps

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