By Fr Gianni Gattei – Aitape
We celebrated the fifth Sandaun Children’s Day last 5-7 December in Lumi. The place is not easy to access. It challenged us to organize the event there. The theme was: “Children’s dignity builds society”. There were 17 songs for the competition but four of the children, from Aitape and Nuku District, couldn’t make it. So we had 13 songs, with children from Aitape, Nuku and Lumi. It was a memorable time for the children and people in Lumi. Some of the schools in the District participated in the event performing different items. Around 150 children were accommodated for three days in the Catholic Mission facilities and well looked after with food and other needs. Many people attended every day, starting from 9am and ending at 4pm.
The weather was fine most of the time. A few showers didn’t prevent people from participating and dancing in the rain. Some disabled children also enjoyed the event and actively took part in the program. The local Catholic youth helped in the preparation of the facilities and guaranteed security throughout the event. The Catholic women helped with the cooking.
The daily program for the three days consisted in listening to the new songs of the competition and to other items prepared by the schools. We also had some inputs on the rights of the children and on their dignity. There were games to please the children and the public. The second day we went live on NBC National Radio for 30 minutes. It was a great achievement for Lumi and the children. This was thanks to Linda from NBC Vanimo who came for the second year to broadcast the event.
The songs touched on so many matters regarding the children: violence, family problems (including the negative impact of cell-phones in the family life), child abuse, rights of children, HIV/Aids, education problems, love for parents, village life, faith and government failure in dealing with children. At the end presents were given to all the children, worth 6,000.00 Kina.
For the organization of the event we received some help from the diocese of Aitape, from some local businesses, and from the religious communities. At a certain point we also received the good news of a generous donation from Nuku MP Joe Sungi. Unfortunately we didn’t have much support from the local governments in Aitape and Lumi districts. This shows that the little ones are easily left out of budget allocations. This Children’s Day was an eye opener for the local authorities. Hopefully they will better support the initiative next time. Again we achieved the goal: to let the children express themselves and grow in self-esteem; this was a strong message to the government authorities and the parents. One of the children, who participated in the Children’s Day since he was in Grade 6, now has become the studio engineer, and alone he arranged and recorded all the 17 songs of the latest event. He was a singer until Grade 8. Then he composed songs for other children and now he is the studio engineer: one of the fruits of the Children’s Day; a sign that if we cultivate the talents of the children and create opportunities for them, they can achieve great things.
“Let the children come to me”, Jesus said. That means, let them walk, don’t carry them always in your hands preventing them from freely expressing themselves; give them freedom to use their gifts, express themselves and do what they should do at their age. Sometimes being too possessive of the children keeps them away from Jesus and from following God’s plan. Respecting the dignity of the children help us to build a better society, healthier communities and stronger families. Let the children sing, shout! Let the children play! Love them! Let them go to Jesus!