They are not alone: Students raise $50k for family violence project

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Participants in an Orange the World initiative launch a new women’s only bus as part of a United Nations Women’s Safe Public Transport for Women and Children Program at Gerehu Market in Papua New Guinea. (Photo: UN Women/Johaness Terra/Flickr)

An Avondale academic and his students are partnering with the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its humanitarian agency to address family violence in Papua New Guinea.

Dr Brad Watson first learned about the country’s high rates of violence—the most recent national studies estimate two-thirds of women in Papua New Guinea experience family violence—while working there between 1995 and 1997. He returned this past year as part of a working group he helped establish with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Australia and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific. His role: to review the Church in Papua New Guinea’s response to family violence.

“We have at least 300,000 Adventists who don’t have access to any real counselling or refuge services,” says Dr Watson, a Senior Lecturer in International Poverty and Development Studies. “Fortunately, the Church in Papua New Guinea is responding by forming a gender task force and by partnering with ADRA to strengthen families and communities.”

After learning about the prevalence of family violence in Papua New Guinea as part of one of the units Watson presents, a team of students led by Linda Ciric adopted the issue for an advocacy campaign. The students called the campaign They Are Not Alone. “This was the positive message we wanted to communicate to those who were survivors of family violence,” says Ciric, who is now an ADRA ambassador.

The campaign had two primary goals: to raise $100,000 through a partnership with the ADRA Australia for family violence projects in Papua New Guinea; and to raise awareness of family violence in general.

"We thought, 'Can a little group of students really do something like that?' The answer is yes."

ADRA Australia chief executive officer Mark Webster is a strong supporter of They Are Not Alone and believes it is crucial for the Church to focus on addressing family violence. “Nothing could be further from the teachings and actions of Jesus, so as Christians we need to do more to care for those who are affected and to work to find ways to reduce its prevalence.”

A year on, the campaign has almost reached its fundraising goal thanks to $50,000 in appropriated funds from the Church in the South Pacific. “While we’re aware of the country’s culture and history, the abuse of women and children in Papua New Guinea simply can’t continue,” says Dr Trafford Fischer, the Adventist Family Ministries liaison on the Church’s Discipleship Ministries Team. “We look forward to seeing how this money will help further encourage people of influence to lobby and legislate for change.”

This apparent success of the campaign has surprised Dr Watson and his students. “We thought, ‘Can a little group of students really do something like that?’ The answer is yes,” says Dr Watson.

The students worked at meeting their awareness goal by creating a They Are Not Alone Facebook page, collaborating on an article with Church news magazine Adventist Record, coordinating an awareness day on Avondale’s Lake Macquarie campus and partnering with the directors of women’s ministries in four of the Church’s conferences and with local churches in Australia.

Dr Watson is now finalising with ADRA Australia and ADRA Papua New Guinea a They Are Not Alone project proposal relating to advocacy, low-cost refuge provision and counselling skill provision in Papua New Guinea. He is also seeking ethics approval for more formal research on family violence.


Ashley Steele is a Bachelor of Arts student at Avondale College of Higher Education.

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