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World Creativity and Innovation Day

Bilum Bags

In Papua New Guinea, Bilum Bags are beautiful, traditional, and intricately handwoven string bags which have been crafted and used by people for hundreds of years to carry their most precious and essential belongings. They are at the heart of Papua New Guinean traditions and hold deep cultural and emotional significance.

Today on World Creativity and Innovation Day – which hopes to raise awareness around the importance of creativity and innovation with respect to advancing the United Nations sustainable development goals, also known as the “global goals” – we can’t think of anything more inspiring than the humble Bilum bag which is not only beautiful and practical but also provides momentum for economic growth in Papua New Guinea.

Pictured here are woman with their gorgeous Bilums for sale at the local markets.







Mercy Works aims to empower, support and guide women and girls towards a better future through many different programs and projects both here in Australia and in overseas in Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and The Philippines.

We have worked in partnership to provide training to women to give them the skills and knowledge to set up their own small to medium businesses to support themselves and their families. Women who have received this training are further supported to ‘Step Up’ by developing their basic skills further and empowering them through providing the tools and materials required to make their businesses sustainable into the future.

This year a total of thirty face masks were sewn by women who had never touched a manual sewing machine for years. Here, our In-Country Coordinator in PNG, Sr Maryanne Kolkia RSM, reveals a skilled woman who had trained in the 1970’s came forward and made herself available to train women from the village to sew. She was accompanied by her granddaughter assisting her to put the thread into the needle of the sewing machine.

Ten manual sewing machines were also repaired and fixed with parts replaced and the machine’s, which are 14 years old, cleaned.

A Women’s Group was formed in February with the aid of the Sisters of St Therese from one of the parishes in the diocese. Now 25 women meet regularly!

Raising awareness in the villages in Papua New Guinea is part of Mercy Work’s mission.

“The progress and developments of targeted activities within the community are positive,” says Sr Maryanne.

“Those engaged with Mercy Works shared positive stories of change and their life-changing experiences to others boosts their curiosity, enthusiasm and motivation.”

With word of mouth spreading among individuals and groups in regards to the Mercy Works program activities, an open invitation to join the group was met with great enthusiasm.

The manageress of St Mary’s Technical School, Helen*, started with her family by purchasing one electrical sewing machine with the Thirty Million Kina project – an initiative which allows a start up amount on loans with micro enterprise concept. The amount used to start up the business is returned and leant to another person.

Over a period of three years the same amount of money is to been given out as a loan 78 times between June 2020 and July 2024!

Helen began sewing Meri blouses (women’s tops) for sale. And the amount of money raised among the family was put to purchasing mini goods for sale and packets of seeds for planting.

“The purpose of lending thirty Kina is to enhance intended personal dreams, goals and vision in life,” says Sr Maryanne who says the program was developed in response to women’s disclosures that while they could earn and save money, their household needs are greater than their earnings.

Woman had shared their frustration at not being able to control their own economic resources.

“It’s a reminder that one’s life journey remains as a catalyst that sets enabling, measurable and simple directions that invites individuals to take responsibility, accountability and liability,” says Sr Maryanne.

“It all contributes to the primary goal of making and growing money together in achieving bigger and better dreams in life. Stories of change among the groups remains a turning point for others wishing, with the idea of; ‘if you can do it, I can too’.”

Providing items like bilums and meri blouses only strengthens the demand for such items. Demand for food produce such as bread, pies, cakes and jams is also increasing as the presence of these items is meeting a need within the community.

For fourteen years in the Eastern Highlands Province,  Sr Maryanne, was a driving force behind various life and skills training programs in Goroka and Mt Hagen. In addition to training in practical skills such as farming and sewing, Maryanne also identified the need for training in Small to Medium Enterprise (SME).
Her experience taught her that this was necessary to enhance the prospects for the trainees to start up and successfully run their own business to sell the goods they have learned to produce.
The theme developed by Maryanne for the SME program, ‘Leave No One Behind’, was created with the aim of being a pathway through agriculture and other businesses to sustainability, reliability and ownership into the future – essential to community development for the poor and impoverished people of Papua New Guinea.
*Helen’s name has been changed for reasons of privacy





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