Young people danced and older people shed tears of joy when a MAF plane made its first landing at an airstrip the community had spent 28 years building.
A story By Kowara Bell
As the people of Sikoi celebrated the arrival of a MAF plane at their remote hilltop airstrip, local leader Enn Gandi knew what it meant for their future.
For almost 28 years, the Sikoi people took on an initiative to build their own airstrip using sticks and bush materials knowing that it is the only means of reliable transportation for them and their children to access basic services for a sustainable livelihood in the years to come. During that period, since PNG’s independence in 1975, generations have missed out on education and healthcare because the community is so hard to reach.
"We haven't had any teachers, schools, health centres or healthcare workers here since 1975, not even an educated individual from our village,” Enn said.
“However, this day signifies a new beginning of Sikoi, and we acknowledge MAF and RAA (Rural Airstrip Agency) for bridging the gap that has been there for so long.”
Living amid the rugged terrain of south Waghi district of Jiwaka Province, the people of Sikoi were completely missing out on health, education, and other community developments. Sikoi, situated on the brink of a mountain peak that aligns to a series of hills, is a depiction of countless remote societies hidden in the highland’s region of Papua New Guinea.
But after villagers spent years working on the airstrip with their bare hands, the RAA were able to do a thorough risk assessment and approve the Sikoi airstrip as operational.
Enn Gandi said he is grateful for the Lord for directing the focus of MAF and RAA on Sikoi airstrip, enabling them to step out of isolation to connect to the outside world.
Overwhelmed in excitement, their young chanted and danced signifying that a battle has been won, their elderly shed tears as they wave with Bibles in their hands thanking the Lord in such joy of having an operational airstrip.
MAF pilot for the test landing, Tim Neufeld, expressed that he felt privileged and humbled to experience what it meant for the people of Sikoi.
“It is the embodiment of what MAF is all about, and that is to find the isolated people and connect them to the rest of the world. Sikoi is a very isolated community, but I’m very grateful to see the real impact come to them,” Tim said.
Tim was accompanied by the Manager Technical Services for the Rural Airstrip Agency (RAA), and an RAA field supervisor and a surveyor who participated in the risk assessment test landing.