Bilum Project Opens Doors For Mothers

The village of Vagiput, in East Sepik Province, first made headlines when Team PNG proudly displayed their bilums at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Designed by chief weaver, Annemarie Kamba, the “Miat Jiki Karu” bilums were a sight to behold as 40 of them hit the international stage, slung over the shoulders of PNG athletes during the opening ceremony.

The bilum project, which started at Vagiput, the home of Dr Preston Karue, has now been extended to two more villages of Wereman and Yanget, in the Burui-Kunai LLG.

Dr Karue, who is volunteering his time and resources to simply help his people, told this newsroom that over 100 accounts have been opened by the bilum mamas of Wosera-Gawi using their own mobile phones.

“100 mobile phones purchased from Digicel, 100 bank accounts issued, we’ve also had a number of menstrual hygiene kits that were donated for the girls,” he said.

The women were also supposed to undergo a financial literacy training, but this has been deferred to September pending the availability of a trainer.

Dr Karue further acknowledged Digicel’s donation of two 40-port solar charging stations for the bilum mamas.

“Without the Digicel solar chargers, there is no way we would have opened the bank accounts for these 100 women,” he stated.

“Even if you run a genset, how many power ports are you going to be charging the phones with at the same time?

“We also got the women to open bank accounts because all their payments are being done into their bank accounts.

“We were able to charge all the women’s phones so we could do transactions to their phones; we’re doing both deposits and withdrawals.

“It’s like an actual banking service.”

Dr Karue said they are working in partnership with Digicel and MiBank, where the latter is assisting with the opening of bank accounts.

“It’s only because we had those solar charging stations that we were able to charge the card machine because we’re also issuing bank cards in the village.”

He highlighted that 90 to 95 percent of these women have never possessed a mobile phone, let alone a bank account.

“We had to teach them very basic functions, like entering a flex card or checking their balance using *120#.

“The really good thing about opening the bank account and issuing mobile phones is the learning and exposure for these women.”

A local business, called Marlow Trading has been helping with the registration of SIM cards, as they have been trained by Digicel PNG.

Marlow Trading has also undergone training with MiBank to open bank accounts.

“We now have the capacity in the village to register SIM cards, issue phones and open bank accounts.

“Once you do that in every community, people won’t have to come out.”

Dr Karue aims for a “cashless LLG”, saying they are building a model that they hope can be duplicated across the nation, considering most of the country’s rural areas are inaccessible.

“For them, it’s really hard to earn money. They only make sago or buai markets, where they earn K7 in a week or two,” he explained.

“Part of the impact of the bilum project, we’ve helped a couple of kids with their school fees already.

“The community has generated revenue now so they have money to support projects like project fees, school fees or clothes; meet all their basic needs.

“Many of them are really happy.”

Carmella Gware