WErise: Grace Nugi – Living Truthfully, Achieving Greatness

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Growing up in a tight knit community, she belonged to this mini bicycle ‘gang’ that loved to go exploring outdoors; catching tadpoles in small drains, hunting spiders and grasshoppers, and making little ‘Mumu’s’ with the kaukaus ‘borrowed’ from their kitchens. 

Being carefree as she was, this little girl broke both her arms over two consecutive Christmases when she was 8 and 9 years old. Despite that, she had always loved being outdoors and dreaded nightfall which meant it was time to call it a day and head on home. Playing freely and safely in her family-oriented neighbourhood of Goroka Technical College would be her priceless childhood memory.

Grace Agatha Nugi was born in Lae, Morobe Province and grew up in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Her mother is from Kerowagi in Chimbu Province, and Nondugul in Jiwaka Province, while her father reigns from Hagen Central in Western Highlands Province.

In Goroka where she grew up, Grace started school at North Goroka Primary and went on to do high school at Goroka Secondary School. She loved studying Language and Literature (English), Chemistry, Biology and Agriculture. These were her favourite subjects in high school. 

Time flew by, and so did high school. Grace went on to further her education in the big city of Port Moresby when she was successfully accepted to study at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG). She said goodbye to her family and friends in Goroka and was on her way to enrol into the Science Foundation at UPNG. After her foundation year, Grace chose to major in Marine Biology. Throughout her university life, Grace participated in a number of extra-curricular activities including soccer, debate, students society & associations and the church of Nazarene youth fellowship group.

Being away from home and missing her mother was the hardest part of adjusting to university life. With not a lot of family members living in Port Moresby at the time, Grace spent most weekends, semester breaks and public holidays on campus keeping herself occupied with studies, church, clubs, societies and associations she participated in.


Grace struggled in Biometrics which she defines as the statistics for Biology and personally felt she could have flunked if it wasn’t for her dedicated lecturer Dr Augustine Mungkaje who helped give Grace extra study materials to work with. Through this experience, Grace learnt a very important lesson to always ask for help despite the fear of feeling and looking dumb that we all seem to get sometimes.

One day on campus in late 2013 as Grace was returning to the dormitory after completing her chemistry practical, she was approached by the former and late Miss PNG Rubyanne Laufa. They both chatted for a bit and it was Rubyanne who planted the thought in Grace  and encouraged her to enter the Miss PNG Pageant. 

Grace grew up watching the prestigious Miss PNG Red Cross crowning ceremonies on TV and she had always admired the women that took part in these events. For Grace, the Miss PNG contest was more than just a beauty pageant. It is about charity, cultural ambassadorship, and having a voice to speak up about issues and concerns affecting our region and country.

After connecting Grace with the then Head of Chaperone, Mrs Molly O’Rourke, Grace  began the rigorous journey to securing an official sponsor for her Miss PNG quest. She  wrote numerous amounts of letters, organised fundraising events, and went through the stringent processes before securing her offical sponsor PNG Air Services Limited (now NiuSky Pacific), the country’s Air Navigation Service provider.


By then Grace had completed her final year at UPNG and was doing an Honors Research  on a 2-year internship with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) PNG based in Goroka. Her research was on an endemic Vulturine Parrot whose population is threatened by overhunting for use in our PNG Highlands traditional head-dresses.

The two main causes Grace advocated on during her quest was Gender Based Violence and Nature and Conservation. As challenging as it was navigating between work in Goroka and having the committee and central focus in Port Moresby, Grace was grateful to have such an amazing and supportive employer and the benevolent organizations and individuals of the communities that rallied behind her.

After months of relentless preparation, sheer hard work and zealous dedication, crowning night finally arrived. Grace had ‘graced’ the stage with her presence. Her passion, beauty and knowledge in what she stood for couldn’t go unnoticed, allowing her to come out winning the title and be crowned as Miss Papua New Guinea 2014.

Miss Papua New Guinea Pageant 2014.

Having achieved this highly esteemed title of Miss PNG is undoubtedly one of Ms Nugi’s highlights of her life. This experience has enabled room for personal growth and has presented Grace a myriad of opportunities not only in her duty to serve as Miss PNG but in finding her place in society as well as fulfilling her purpose and give her meaning in life.

Inevitably Grace became a role model for her peers and to many other young Papua New Guineans. This prompted Grace to carefully consider the role of a role model and make sure she was growing to become a better version of herself everyday in order to inspire the lives of others, even up to this day. 

This young woman who has always been passionate about nature and PNG’s diverse culture has grown in leaps and bounds in her professional and academic journey, receiving  consecutive Student Awards in India, Australia and New Zealand under the Student Conference on Conservation Science where she was awarded with the Best Student Talks in February and September of 2015, and in July 2018 for her study on the previously mentioned Vulturine Parrot in PNG.

Grace receiving one of her Best Student Talk Awards.

We often overlook and take for granted the fact that Papua New Guinea holds 7 to 8 per cent of the world’s global biodiversity species in a mere 1 percent of the earth’s land mass. We also overlook the fact that our forests are some of the last remnants of virgin forest in the world today. 

Another thing we boast about – yet, not realizing its loss – is our culture and the 800 plus different languages we have. Most of these are not documented, protected or passed on. We do not know how many of these languages may have gone extinct, with everyone now speaking Tok Pisin and English in their homes. 

We do not know how many undiscovered species of both plants and animals are lost with increasing deforestation due to logging and agricultural practices with an increasing population that is doubling every thirty years.

The field of Biology, Conservation and Anthropology in PNG has not been valued or seen as ‘attractive’ for decades and I hope this will change where we have more national scientists and experts leading the cause to protect and educate our people and our leaders on our biggest resources yet – Our Land, Seas and Culture.

Recently Grace was awarded with an Australian Awards Scholarship to attend the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane Australia to complete her research on the Indigenous use of Wildlife in the Bismarck Forest along the Chimbu Province and also a Case Study in the North Coast of Manus Island where she spent time in two village communities of Tulu 2 and Lehewa to study Birds and medium sized Mammals (bandicoots, wallabies, cuscus and possums).

Photos: Grace at Campsite in the forest, With local family at project site, With research team at Womkama Village Chimbu, Grace accompanied by her Daughter on a field trip.

This study will contribute to providing a list of species that are being threatened by indigenous use – hunting for ‘habus’ (food protein) or ‘bilas’ (traditional wear) – that our country needs to prioritise protection on. It will also provide a baseline for the different birds and mammals species in the study site that Grace was working on.

While in Manus, Grace recorded the number of Admiralty Cuscus and Bandicoots that were hunted and consumed over a month. This data will help with projections about future consumption rates and assist in making informed conservation decisions.

Grace spent over two months between Manus and Chimbu during her recent field trip in September 2019. She became very ill with malaria and dengue for the first time that it knocked her out pretty bad. Thankfully Grace recovered, but also at the time her mother was hospitalized which made it quite difficult for Grace to leave her behind. Her mother wanted her to return to complete her Research and so Grace listened and flew back to Brisbane to complete her studies, not knowing her entire life would soon change.

Tragedy hit home and sadly Grace lost her mother to her battle with diabetes. It was when the world went into lock down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Grace was not able to travel back home to PNG to say her final goodbyes and lay her dear mother to rest. Grace was very close to her mother and to not be there beside her to pay her last respects was heartbreaking and devastating. 

Alot has changed since then. Grace has returned to PNG after completing her scholarship at the UQ and has decided to leave Goroka and move to Port Moresby. Time passing by doesn’t make it any better but Grace has great sources of support through her friends and from professional counselling to help deal with her grief.

The experience of bringing life into this world through the birth of her beautiful daughter not so long ago in 2016 and then suddenly losing her mother earlier this year has both taught Grace to slow down, take a breather, appreciate where you are in life and change the way you process and react to things that are outside of your control.

Stay grounded in your truth, embrace how far you’ve come and be grateful in where you’re at.

Life may seem like a big competition at times but most importantly, you must go at your own pace and remind yourself that there is enough room for everyone to succeed.

Ask questions and seek help when needed. Asking questions elevates your learning.
Every experience is a process and most of them, especially the ‘bad’ ones, come to elevate us to becoming stronger.

At the moment Grace is writing to publish her Research while working in Public Relations with NiuSky Pacific. It has been quite difficult securing a job in her field due to the current pandemic impacts on our economy, and while working in Air Navigation with a background in Conservation actually is a big switch, Grace believes we should never limit ourselves and miss out on opportunities that can allow us to grow professionally.

There are some amazing women in the field of Science who inspires Grace, like Dr Pamela Toliman who is an amazing mum of two, a leading National Scientist in cervical cancer research and a leader not only in her field but in important issues around Gender and Pacific Women in Leadership. 

Grace also has a deep respect and admiration for Dr Miriam Supuma and Yolarnie Amepou knowing how tough it is to negotiate between family time, field work, community liaising and for being patient with the animals they look out for to come out in order to study them. Her elder sister Pamela Nugi is also someone Grace returns to for calm and anchorage whenever she needs that extra help.

An important issue that is affecting our country right now and destroying homes and families is domestic and gender-based violence which is something Grace highlighted during her reign as Miss PNG and still a topic she advocates for change. Grace is encouraging all the educated population to speak up and inform immediate families on the effects of corruption and to vote wisely in the upcoming year 2022 elections.

Domestic violence is a disease killing our women and girls. If 2 out of 3 women have experienced some form of violence and abuse, it should be a priority by now to address it. Individually, we should look into the family unit and raise sons to respect women and girls, and for girls to know their worth and never settle for anything less.

We should not vote just because of our tribal obligations and loyalty, but we should now be in a position to vote the leaders who actually care for the people. 

What if the people of PNG all planned and voted unanimously to have a parliament with 50 percent represented by women leaders? 

A home is termed ‘broken’ if it has a single parent…would that mean our house of parliament is also ‘broken’ without the gender that makes over half of the nation’s population?

Take this moment to celebrate Grace Nugi, a perfect example of an inspirational Papua New Guinean woman who not only is a hard-working, high-achieving individual but also a person of high values, discipline, authenticity and courage. Grace teaches us resilience, to stay focused on your goals and continue to live in your truth.

WErise – celebrating inspirational PNG women.
Empowering Minds through the Power of Storytelling.

Read about other amazing PNG Women featured on WErise here


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3 COMMENTS

  1. Gifted Soul, Inspiring Story. May God Continue to Bless you to speak on-behalf of every daughters of this beautiful country. PNG.

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