Papua New Guinean (PNG) Women Leading and Influencing (WLI) alumna Florence Siba is collaborating with the Lutheran Church community to help young PNG high-school graduates access internships opportunities in Australia to boost their economic independence.
Launched in 2023 to address what Florence describes as a lack of professional training opportunities for young PNG women upon completion of Year 12, the program of the Lutheran Church in Australia is in line with Florence’s career focus: to remove barriers to education for PNG girls and youth.
An experienced senior-school teacher of over 15 years, Florence is an alumna of the WLI Women’s Developmental Leadership Program (WDLP) who embraced the idea for the church training program through conversations with the WLI alumni network while on-Award in Australia.
The Volunteer Internship Training program Florence now coordinates provides 18-to-25-year-old women with “on-the-job training in hospitality, catering and missionary course work for one year” to ensure they “return to PNG with a greater opportunity to support themselves and their community”.
Florence is a committed advocate for girls' and women’s education, which she believes is a critical factor to drive gender equality and development in PNG. While on the WDLP and throughout her teaching career, Florence has been committed to removing barriers to education.
During the COVID-19 pandemic when the high price and low availability of sanitary products kept menstruating PNG girls home from school, Florence and WLI project team members Anna Apop and Lavinia ToVue established an in-country-made supply of reusable sanitary products while increasing community understandings of mensutraton.
The Lutheran Church Volunteer Internship Training program is a continuation of Florence’s barrier-levelling work, with a focus on female school-leavers who research shows face additional hurdles to economic independence.
She explains, “The chances for women to stay in college and graduate are hindered by lack of financial access and job opportunities.
“This project can see women engage in part-time work to create their own income and have a more competitive CV that increases their chances of getting a job or even creating a living in the informal sector.
“Volunteer Internship Training is aimed at young Lutheran women between the ages of 18 and 25 who have completed Year 12 and have participated in youth activities [through the Church].
“They receive on the job training in hospitality, catering, and missionary course work for one year and return to PNG with a greater opportunity to support themselves and their community.”
While on the WDLP, Florence was undertaking her Master of Education Studies at The University of Canberra, ACT. During this time, she was exposed to WLI leadership tools, mentoring, and the alumni network of Pacific women (in Australia and the Pacific) who helped to strengthen the project.
Florence explains, “My experience of [the WDLP and] effective mentoring set the pace for me to be more engaged, while the leadership tools upskilled me and developed a ‘leadership mindset’.
“There were ongoing discussions on this project with other alumni who connected together when studying in Australia.
“The idea was then shared and synergised by our Australian friends when we returned to PNG.
“Through people linkages and Church partnership, the Volunteer Internship Training project for PNG young women started in 2023.”
Florence undertakes the role of PNG Internship Development Officer for the project and is responsible for implementing support for youth development and enabling a culturally aware environment needed for PNG youth to succeed.
Florence says her work to empower and enable PNG girls and young women to access education will continue far beyond the internship program.
She explains, “My plans are to continue to propose ways to expand [the Volunteer Internship Program and menstrual health project] by creating space for deeper, stronger people bonding and mutual cultural awareness.”
Prior to taking up her Australia Award, Florence was instrumental in establishing the Papuan-Australian fellowship group, which supports and encourages PNG and West Papuan students settling into Australian society.
“If I can be critical, think out of the box, identify challenges, and be able to create solutions to influence my community for the better, I will demonstrate the leader’s role,” she explains.
Florence is an alumna of the WLI Women’s Developmental Leadership Program (formerly the Leadership and Mentoring program).