From criminal to community leader

Young PeopleWorkSkills DevelopmentPapua New Guinea

Despite an abundance of natural resources, including gold, Papua New Guinea (PNG) suffers from an incredibly high youth unemployment rate and one of the highest crime rates in the world – hardly the island paradise one thinks of in the South Pacific.

Osimo grew up as part of a family of 11 in a small village called Munum, near Lae on the east coast of PNG. He dropped out of school because his parents, who were farmers, couldn’t afford to pay his school fees. Like many young people from poor communities, he had little hope for the future and quickly resorted to crime to earn enough money to live.

‘When I dropped out of school I started selling drugs and stealing cars – I had no hope for a better future,’ he explains. ‘One day I was part of a group of boys who murdered a man in a nearby community. Eventually the police caught me stealing a car. They put me in prison and beat me up, knocking out my teeth.’

A turnaround
While he was in prison, Osimo met a pastor from the Salvation Army who told him about Jesus and he became a Christian. When he was released, the pastor put him in touch with Ola Fou, a Tearfund partner running a youth development programme.

‘When I left prison, I met Robin, a youth leader from Ola Fou, who told me about their training programme and offered me a place on the course,’ says Osimo. ‘But in order to attend the training course, I needed to get a passport to travel to the Solomon Islands and Fiji.’

This seemed a big obstacle, but, with Robin’s encouragement and help, Osimo raised the money for his passport by selling dried coconut at the market.

Ola Fou’s YLD4R (Youth Leadership Development for Resilience) programme aims to give young people the leadership skills they need to transform their communities, as well as withstand disasters, which many islands in the South Pacific are particularly vulnerable to.

After tropical storm Pam swept across the South Pacific in March 2015, Tearfund launched an appeal to address the impact of the storm and help communities plan for future disasters. The Ola Fou programme is part of that response.

Agent for change
Osimo returned to his community determined to use his training to help other boys and young men turn their lives around. He gathered a group of them together to start a coffee shop. They took turns to run it, making and selling donuts as well as coffee.

‘Some of the boys have now gone to school with the money they made,’ says Osimo. ‘The boys are proud of what they have been able to achieve and are proud because they have a bank account.’

The group have also painted the local school and have started helping widows in the community. People can see how these boys, who used to be involved in crime or stayed idle at home, have changed and are now working to improve their community.

‘I have never done anything like this before,’ says Osimo with a broad smile. ‘Ola Fou helped me to change my attitude. Before, I just caused problems – day and night my life was all about stealing. I left my parents’ home because they did not like what I was doing.

‘Ola Fou taught me about the circle of courage – a model of positive youth development. They even encouraged me to lead devotions, which I’d never done before, and I began to understand the Bible more.’

God’s good plan
Osimo is not stopping there – he has recognised that he can really make a difference. Next year, he hopes to run for a council seat in his village, so that he can use the skills he has learned to lead his community.

‘I want to get a new road to our village and a clean water supply,’ he says. ‘God has made an impact in my life. I realised that God has a good plan for me, he did not plan for me to be a criminal. People know I did bad things before I joined the Ola Fou programme, but now people can see the change Ola Fou has made in me.’

This is a young man whose life has been transformed, who is making a profound difference in his community and who is showing others the way forward.

Please pray:

  • Praise God for his intervention in Osimo’s life and for the leadership programme that has equipped him to make a difference in his community.
  • Pray for Osimo, that he will be able to use his skills in leading his community and that the village will get the new road and clean water supply he dreams of.
  • Pray also for the young boys that Osimo is working with, that they will continue to work for the good of the community and that many more can find a future without crime.
Ben Keenan