The Black Pearl Network grew out of an approach to the Uniting Church of Australia by the Gereja Kristin Injili Di Tanah Papua (GKI TP) in 2008. At about the same time, the All Saints Floreat Uniting Church in Western Australia was having a long, hard look at itself and planning to investigate how it could assist those in need outside its own western suburbs boundaries.
By coincidence, a Uniting World representative in the Asia Pacific Region was visiting the church in WA at that time and spoke to the Floreat congregation about the situation in Papua, highlighting the political situation and prevalence of human rights abuses arising from the conflict resulting from what many Papuans saw as the “colonisation” of their land by Indonesia.
The leader of the Mission and Outreach Taskforce at Floreat church, Richard Smith, followed up by organising an exposure trip to Papua by several members of the congregation.
During that visit the group visited the Tangma valley where the local people gathered in their hundreds and travelled by foot for up to three hours in order to present us with a petition requesting our help to provide clean water and sanitation for their people.
At that time health care in the valley was minimal and their children were dying of waterborne diseases while they shared the natural water courses with their pigs and other livestock. That afternoon made an indelible impression on the western visitors and fuelled all the efforts to follow and the formation of the Black Pearl Network.
Further investigation revealed that the national (Indonesian) government had the valley earmarked for an extensive water program only seven months after our visit so our assistance was no longer required there but we had seen the evidence of clean water as a widespread need in the Papuan villages and were keen to help.
Also, on that trip to Papua, the group visited STIE (a college of advanced education in Jaypura) and the seeds of our involvement with that educational institution were planted. We spent many hours with Papuan people listening to their stories and their pleas for assistance in many areas.
It was difficult to decide where we could be of the greatest assistance, bearing in mind that at that time we were just a few people from a small church in Perth.
Our concern at the political unrest and resulting conflict led us to listen hard for clues as to how we could best help the people of Papua towards a peaceful future. Over and over again we heard pleas for help in teaching English to the young people of the country as a tool to be used in gaining access to international scholarships and better jobs and opening the way to increased political influence and peaceful change.
Our current programmes for the APCEP course and the Black Pearl Network English classes in Papua have grown from these entreaties.