Ben Ruli with colleagues doing an assessment on plants.

Restoring the balance between a person, their culture and the environment is a tall task that one man is determined to take on. Ben Ruli, from Lufa, Eastern Highlands Province, grew up surrounded by the cool climate of Mt Michael and the wisdom of his grandfather.

It was his grandfather’s knowledge of and interaction with the natural environment that planted the seeds that would grow into a passion for environmental anthropology.  

“My grandfather was already practicing the ethos of sustainable living because he saw the environment not only as a source of resource but something that is a part of him,” Ben said, sitting with his new colleague in downtown Port Moresby.

Following his love and interest he has with working with people who are living and caring for the natural environment, Ben left his profession as a high school teacher to pursue his passion with a local environmental NGO in Goroka. Working under the tutelage and mentorship of a Professor in Environmental Anthropology and PNG Conservation Biologists, Ben found his calling. His determination opened doors to different streams in his field, including marine biology which saw this highlander study and appreciate coral and life plants in the ocean. Everything he learnt reinforced his grandfathers’ teachings.  

“Since my tertiary studies at the University of Goroka, I have been working with Papua New Guinean NGOs that work with and among local communities. I have seen the passion, effort and commitment from these communities and I have also seen the challenges that they face. A main challenge is the broken relationship that people have with the natural environment and their culture.” Ben said.

Ben sees this as an imbalance between people, nature and culture that has occurred over the years because Papua New Guineans have forgotten the values that their forefathers had that allowed them to make Papua New Guinea and its rich terrain and biodiversity, their home.

Being the recipient of the UNDP SGP Indigenous Peoples fellowship, Ben sees this as an opportunity to live out his dream to help restore this balance while supporting and learning from those communities whose relationships with their environment and culture is still intact.

“The world can learn a lot from the values and knowledge contained within our cultures and natural habitat. This fellowship provides me with the platform to help as many communities as I can with the knowledge and networks I have acquired over the years and the new ones that this fellowship will provide.”

The UNDP SGP Indigenous Peoples Fellowship is part of a global drive to assist indigenous communities to continue to protect the natural environment that they live in, with an emphasis on traditional culture and values that has been practised by Papua New Guineans for thousands of years . Supported by the Global Environment Facility, Papua New Guinea is one of eight countries chosen to drive this initiative forward in 2019.

SGP National Coordinator, Ms Tamalis Akus is excited about this new direction that the project is taking, “PNG SGP is privileged to have been selected to participate in the second year of this global initiative. Ben has been allocated a  USD$20,000 grant to implement his plans over the next 12 months.”

The GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme, launched the global component of the Indigenous Peoples Fellowship Initiative in November 2016 at the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco and at the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico in December 2016. 

Ben Ruli
Ben Ruli (centre) among colleagues in the highlands region

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