As I stood in front of a conference of women back in 2016, I was terrified. I enjoy public speaking (some would even say I’m pretty good at it), but this time it was different. This time I was raising money for a cause I was passionate about; for people I loved. And I desperately didn’t want to mess it up.
A few months earlier, Brad Watson, my lecturer at the Seventh-day Adventist-owned Avondale University College in Cooranbong, NSW, had divided the class into two groups and given us an assignment: to create an advocacy program about an issue we saw within our local, or even global, community. The other group decided to do something for Green Week—taking care of the environment is important—they felt they could do some good in the local community.
Our group was stuck. We felt pretty comfortable in Cooranbong; we had access to food, to water and we were safe. Our lecturer listened to us brainstorm for a little while, and then started to share some information about a study he’d been conducting on violence within Papua New Guinea (PNG).
We started to do our own research. In levels described as “pandemic” by the Australian Federal Police, family violence will be suffered by more than two-thirds of women within PNG. This includes not only sexual abuse, but also physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual assault. This rate extends to 100 per cent in one region, meaning that all women are expected to suffer violence at some stage of their lives. In another region, 20 per cent of women will have rape as their first sexual experience.
We were horrified. We had already been confronted by the statistics of Australian domestic violence (as of 2017, one in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15), and now here was a more extreme problem.
We decided we needed to act, and so created They Are Not Alone, a humanitarian aid advocacy project designed to raise $A100,000 with ADRA Australia for various family violence prevention projects within PNG.
We knew we were up against some severe challenges. For one thing, we were a group of tertiary students (meaning our funds weren’t exactly overwhelming) from a small town, none of whom had been to PNG. We were also all from Anglo backgrounds, meaning the fear of coming across as a type of “white saviour” was something we vividly felt and desperately wanted to avoid. And finally, this was a class project, which meant that, like it or not, most of us wouldn’t be involved in a few months’ time.
But, despite our challenges, we knew we had to help, not only because we had come face to face with stories of this abuse, but also because it was something we felt called to do.
“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed,” says Psalm 82:3.
This sentiment is echoed in Isaiah 1:17, where we are told: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
The basic premise of Christianity is the reality of a God coming to rescue a struggling, destitute and oppressed humanity. We figured if God was willing to perform an action as drastic as that to help those who were struggling, the least we could do was raise money.
So we set to work. We communicated. We ran an advocacy day. We invited people to share their stories. We worked hard to raise money at various events. We spoke with church leaders and members of congregations. I presented at a women’s conference and we managed to raise a significant amount of money, despite my fears and shaky voice. There were tears, frustrations, T-shirts and a lot of times when we felt very uncomfortable. But our belief in what we were doing, and the God we were serving as we did it, moved us forward.
I ended up leaving Avondale in early 2017 to go to another university. Yet the project continued. I would hear updates on how certain goals were being reached and how plans for a refuge were being developed. A little piece of me always felt like I was still involved somehow, no matter how long it had been since I’d sat around a table with my team, discussing what we were going to do to address this problem that seemed way bigger than any of us.
The project finished in early 2019. They Are Not Alone was able to reach its goal of $100,000, thanks to the tireless work of our team and ADRA. This money, along with other donations and funding, made possible the opening of a “safe house” in PNG, which is designed to provide temporary housing for people escaping family violence, and deliver awareness training. It marked the end of an almost three-year journey, and it’s one I am very proud of.
American anthropologist Margaret Mead said we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed [they are] the only thing that ever has”. To be honest, I don’t know whether we changed the world. Frankly, unless people go to PNG, or people talk about the project globally, I doubt many will ever hear about They Are Not Alone. But that’s okay. Perhaps the efforts of our group will mean that one little girl won’t grow up feeling scared, or maybe one woman will finally feel she has a place to go where she can feel safe. And that’s enough for me.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 000 in Australia, 111 in New Zealand or 112 in Papua New Guinea. For Papua New Guinea’s domestic violence hotline, call 715-08000 or 1800RESPECT in Australia (1800 737 732). Lifeline can be found at 13 11 14.
Jessica Krause is currently completing a law/media degree at Newcastle University in NSW.