Spotlight On Emerging Author Josephine Yaga, Papua New Guinea

To build a diverse, representative and relevant digital library, it’s important that Library For All seeks out talented writers from the countries and language groups of our readers. To help locate and motivate local writers, LFA runs Writers’ Workshop programs in collaboration with educators and community groups.

Josephine Yaga attended our Port Moresby Writers’ Workshop and will soon have her work published through Library For All. Her poetry and storytelling is sensitive and engaging, sharing the experiences of her own community and the people she meets through her work as a Communications Officer with ChildFund PNG.

Josephine Yaga Headshot

Stories inspired by local communities

The team at LFA was particularly moved by Josephine’s beautiful poem If Only Close, inspired by her chance meeting with a family in Central Province. In this region crucial services are scarce and the pictured family – a couple and their two daughters – were travelling to access immunisations for their baby. To do this, they journeyed 3 hours by banana boat down the flooding Oman River, then 4 hours by truck to the city. They carried with them produce to sell in Port Moresby, using the money to fund their return journey.

New Guinea Family with bananas

Josephine dedicates her poem to this family and all the brave parents who make these challenging voyages to benefit their children.

If Only Close

By Josephine Yaga

Baby on her neck

Bilum on the back

Down the hills

And across the rivers

Dusk  to dawn  to dusk she walks

She hopes to reach

The foreign land

If only close

The lights ahead

The sole of her foot

Cracked, hardened and firm

From miles of walking

Each passing day

This walk ahead, is one of many

The  foot’s  aware

Of the track ahead

It takes her on, and on and on

Down hills and valleys and paths of rivers

Feet so strong

They take her on

On constant rhythm

For miles and miles

To foreign land

If only close

The lights ahead

Stomachs whine

For food to dine

Minutes pass and so as hours

Its hunger strike

Is yet ignored

Till it falls asleep

After dining on water

To pass the time

Till she reaches her journey

From miles and miles

To foreign land

If only close

The lights ahead

Her baby sleeps,

So sound and peaceful,

Her body aches

From hours walk

Hills up high, up she climbs

Rivers so deep, she manages to cross

With careful thought

Of her sleeping child

To keep him calm

Till she reaches her journey

From miles and miles

To foreign land

If only close

The lights ahead

The baby cries

To stop her mama

To rest awhile

Her aching body

She stops and rests and looks ahead

At the last remaining, truck to catch

And looks down later

At her feeding child

Whose big round eyes

Fixed on her face

And smiles at her

To ease her aches

From walking hours

For miles and miles

To reach the land

The foreign land

If only close

The lights ahead.

We spoke to this exciting new writer about her inspirations, her creative style and her life in PNG.

“How amazing it is that a few simple words and sentences can make a storybook for a child.”

“My childhood days were similar to that of the little girl next to her mother,” Josephine tells us.  With most of the government services located in larger towns or cities, rural families are regularly faced with long treks across a difficult landscape. Josephine remembers the feeling of “being small, travelling long distances to access services by walking across tough terrain with limited food and water, or sometimes being carried on our mother’s shoulders with big string bags.” She admires the tenacity of women in these communities where “sustaining life is the greatest challenge”. Mothers must face these journeys again and again, without complaining. She recalls her own mother “her foot bare for miles to reach the health services or to buy food and clothes”.

Yaga illuminates this struggle through her poetry, using evocative imagery to paint a picture of resilience. “‘Foreign land’ refers to Port Moresby city,” she tell us.  “It is foreign because rural women visit the city and they return home after accessing those services. The lights in the distance refer to the city lights and services. Their journey is tough but our mothers manage to reach their destination. They can repeat this journey a thousand times.”

Surprisingly, creative writing is a new venture for Josephine, who is more accustomed to writing news pieces or features in her working life. She discovered LFA via a ChildFund PNG education project she was involved with and soon put her hand up to attend a Writers’ Workshop.

We asked her to list some of the benefits of attending the workshop. “Allowing our minds to relax and thinking outside of our everyday routine activities,” was an exciting start. “How amazing it is that a few simple words and sentences together with illustrations can make a story/reading book for a child. It eased my mind to think that with those few simple sentences, a child is able to read and understand. And I was able to write a piece like that during the workshop!”

Josephine believes that there are many budding writers in PNG who would love to contribute stories to LFA. Some write serious material about social issues, whereas others write just for fun. LFA strives to share reading material across a range of themes and writing styles, so more writer engagement projects will be on our ‘to do list’ in 2018.

“My experience helps me to respect people and appreciate my own life.”

When she’s not writing, Josephine works closely with schools and community groups via her work with ChildFund PNG. Her previous role was with the PNG National Agricultural Institute (NARI). Between these two positions, she’s been travelling to rural communities for over 9 years and enjoys meeting new people on her field trips.

“I love my job because it brings me closer to different communities. I also  learn about their food, vegetation lifestyle/culture and language. Each community has its sets of views and values about life. It is very important to appreciate their views. My experience helps me to respect people and appreciate my own life,” the author states.

Her personal life experiences have also brought her wisdom and insight. Still in her mid 30s, she is a single mother of three boys (Laws 9, Hyden 6 and Napoleon 5) and recently adopted her brother’s baby girl (6 months old). She clearly loves children and lists singing to her little ones as one of her passions in life. She also enjoys cooking, making gardens, listening to country music, taking photographs and travelling places (especially to the rural communities). In terms of her writing: “My goal is to write stories and poems  for readers to read and take home a message. Messages that relate to life.”

Josephine has a passion for writing, and sees reading as a key to opportunity. Talking about the children she encounters in her work she says: “By reading more stories, it will broaden their knowledge about the world and help them to read and write. Few elementary students have access to reading books. For the rest, most of what they read are materials produced by the teachers and placed on the classroom walls, such as charts. Most elementary children continue to speak their local language in school. Teaching them English remains a challenge. ”

Library For All looks forward to working with writers like Josephine Yaga to make quality reading materials available to more communities in PNG and across the developing world.

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New Guinea Family with bananas