Not many Papua New Guineans outside mining circles know about a geologist named Jerry Garry from Simbu.
His contributions have helped resurrect the economies of countries devastated by decades of war. He has implanted Papua New Guinean models of mining legislation in Afghanistan and helped in the building of the largest iron ore mine in Sierra Leone after the civil war.
In South Africa, he gained additional university qualifications as a diamond expert.
He then went on to become the first Papua New Guinean General Manager of a multi-national miner, managing the company’s diamond division which held portfolios in various African countries.
The son of a Seventh Day Adventist missionary, Jerry Garry was born in 1967. After completing high school at Kabiufa, he went on to study geology at the University of Papua New Guinea. His first taste of real mining, like many Papua New Guinean geologists, was at Ok Tedi in 1991.
Post graduate studies took him to the University of Ballarat in Australia. Then he joined a Canadian company, Iriana Resources that operated in Indonesia.
His thirty year career, has been whirlwind of experiences, in eight countries around the world.
Jerry Garry is a trailblazer in his own right. His most important assignment came in 2012. Whilst working in on a European Union funded project in Wau, Morobe Province, a job came up. The World Bank wanted a Deputy Team Leader for a group of mining experts who were to be sent to war-torn Afghanistan.
“After a few emails, I got a call from Germany. At the time I was quite excited. I knew it was going to be exciting and I was looking forward to the challenge”
After all the formalities had been completed. Jerry Garry, landed in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. In 2012, the country was in a period of transition. US-led coalition troops stationed there, had begun the process of handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
But the armed insurgent attacks on the troops and civilians were continuing. It was in this climate that the Simbu geologist arrived in Kabul with his team of international colleagues.
“The first thing I saw when I arrived in Kabul was a sign that said: ‘WELCOME TO THE LAND OF THE BRAVE.’
“As we were driving, there were people weeping on the side of the road. They said a mortar bomb had gone off just before we arrived.
“That gave you a picture of what was happening in the country when we arrived.”
Garry and his team were met by a contingent of German troops who took them to the briefing center. The Germans were in charge of their security from there on.
As Deputy Team Leader, Jerry Garry, was responsible for the safety of the multinational team operating in one of the most dangerous locations in the world. The team worked to develop a capacity building program for the Ministry of Mines of the Government of Afghanistan.
Operating in a non-English speaking country, Garry’s innate skills in Melanesian diplomacy and negotiation was put to the test.
“As a Papua New Guinean, I was able to go to the people with sincerity and empathize with them. I was able to connect with them without being judgmental.
“And the Afghani, when they realized what I was doing, appreciated this very much and I earned a lot of respect from them.”
After 30 years of constant war and conflict, Afghanistan’s economy was in tatters. Its experts had either been killed or had escaped from the troubled country. It was a massive task for the small team.
“After 30 years, all the understanding and technologies had evolved. They had missed out. We were helping them connect the dots.”
Since ancient times, the country has been embroiled in various conflicts over resources. Afghanistan sits on a rich band of mineral deposits that runs from Europe through to Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and the Himalayas.
Using his own experiences, Garry helped develop legislation that made the Afghanistan Department of Mines the regulator of mining operations in the country – a legislative model like that used in Papua New Guinea.
With Afghanistan struggling with the piece meal approach of aid delivery and funding, the team developed a concept that wove in transport infrastructure development that linked resource rich areas of the country.
“We designed railroads and deployed a ring road that created resource development corridors for the country.
“We developed and built a system that would be sustainable and would help the people of Afghanistan when we left.”
Garry said the media coverage of the country greatly misrepresents the Afghan people. He found the similarities between Papua New Guinea and the Afghanis, striking.
“The country itself is very challenging. In Helmand province, temperatures can rise to 40-50 degrees Celsius and in winter drop below zero. So they are a very strong people.
“They are dependent on each other. Communal living is a critical element of survival. And They are the kindest people I have met.”
Afghanistan wasn’t his first dangerous assignment. Twelve years earlier, Jerry Garry, was in Sierra Leone. The West African country had just come out of a bloody civil war and the government was desperate to rebuild the economy.
“The UN peace keeping force was there. There was no infrastructure. Everything had been destroyed. The GDP had fallen below zero.”
Africa, gave Jerry Garry, a brand new experience. For the first time, he was learning about a rock he as unfamiliar with. In this period, he spent time in South Africa gaining additional qualifications on diamond mining. He became Papua New Guinea’s first diamond expert.
He spent the next seven years, traversing the length and breath of Sierra Leone, looking for new opportunities. But they didn’t come easy. Eventually, the company he worked for opened up Tonkolili, Sierra Leone’s biggest iron ore mine.
Within the first few years of the mine’s operation, the country’s GDP saw a 15 percent jump in its growth.
“You know, to see the economy of a country turn around because you contributed to it… it’s an indescribable feeling.
“It is the pinnacle of career satisfaction. There is nothing like it.”
Despite all his achievements, Jerry Garry, holds his missionary dad and his mum close to his heart.
“My parents were the people who implanted the direction I would take in life.
“My dad was a missionary. He had nothing. But he would walk for miles to spread the gospel. He had a mission to accomplish.
Jerry Garry says the money and the materialism matter very little to him. When he graduated, the challenge was about being the first to do things.
“When people talk about me, they refer to me as the Papua New Guinean geologist. That is when you feel the burden of the country on your shoulders.
“We have to be ambassadors of Papua New Guinea.”