Racing for peace

Running for peace in Kup, PNG. Photo:Oxfam
Women set off first in the Kup versus the
World race. And the men don't see them
for dust! 

At the end of August 2008, Oxfam partner organisation Kup Women for Peace hosted the first long distance running event ever held in their remote region of the Papua New Guinea Highlands. The 30km race (approximately – no one could be sure) across mountainous terrain was inspired by Team PNG's success in winning Oxfam Trailwalker 2008 in Taupo.

Simon Du, a Team PNG member, organised the event. The 108 (mostly barefoot) participants, including a Kiwi, a Fijian, an Australian and a Zimbabwean, competed for a ticket to Port Moresby and the chance to represent Kup in the 98km Kokoda trail run the following weekend.

The men, convinced that the 21 women entrants would fade fast, agreed to give them a 27-minute head start. And that was the last they saw of them! Despite their confidence, the men never came close to the leading women. The first three runners to cross the finish line were a mum of five (keen to get back to breastfeed her youngest), a mum of three and a 13-year-old girl – all running barefoot.

The kill homebrew and marijuana race

The race was branded Kup verses the World: Kilim Steam Na Drug race (kill homebrew and marijuana race), and was a chance to engage the young people of Kup in a competitive, challenging and positive way. Before the race started there was traditional dancing and speeches, allowing the chance to talk to the young people about living a healthy lifestyle and the side-effects of drug-dependency and drug abuse.

There was an astonishing number of young men involved in the event. Young men are typically absent from community activities and are often the cause of much of the insecurity in communities throughout PNG.

Engaging young men in positive activities

Young men often feel frustrated and full of undirected energy. They return from high school with high expectations and different ways of thinking from their clansmen, but with few skills suitable for rural life. Faced with limited job opportunities and difficulties in fitting back in with traditional structures and values, these young men often turn to homebrew and marijuana. They gain a sense of control and identity through involvement in gangs and crime, further distancing themselves from their communities.

Oxfam sees a huge need in PNG to keep young people, particularly the males, busy and positive, not only through agricultural projects but also by finding sporting and creative opportunities into which they can channel their energy.

All the young people involved in the race and the community are keen to make this an annual event. They plan to explore the opportunity for increasing participation by international visitors, and wish to increase the fundraising possibilities.