Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Count on Books... Read

The National Book Week is in the first week of August every year. Since 1980 Papua New Guinea has observed the book week in style. Schools all over the country celebrate the importance of books with various activities in creative ways. This is the twentieth year of the National Book Week.


The Office of National Libraries and Archives is the coordinating agency for the National Book Week. The theme for this year is Count On Books…Read. It is an encouraging theme for everyone to count on books as an important foundation of their lives. Counting on books is for young learners in schools, educational institutions, and for all Papua New Guineans. National development must go hand in hand with the development of a book culture in Papua New Guinea.

Counting on book is a slogan for everyone. It is not only for students, teachers, and those involved in education. Books are important to everyone in the world. Books are for the employed and unemployed population. Books are for those who live in towns and in villages. Books are for the professionals and non-professionals. Books are for men and women, boys and girls. Books are important to the young and old. Books are counted among the instruments that changed everyone’s lives. No one can deny that they have never read a book, except for those who have never been introduced to the transformative powers of books.
Many successful Papua New Guineans have counted on books to bring them to where they are now. One of the books that I draw my inspirations from is Sana, our Prime Minister’s autobiography. I occasionally read the Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s autobiography to remain inspired and motivated to be a great leader like our Prime Minister. One of the inspiring part of the Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare’s life is that very early on in his life, our Prime Minister had counted on books to pursue his dream.

In this column I want to share that part of our Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s life with Papua New Guineans who have not read Sana, his first and only autobiography. He writes about his education in Dregerhafen Education Centre:

“I was greatly encouraged in my studies when, in 1954, I won the South Pacific Commission’s Literature Bureau Competition. We were asked to write about our favourite book. I won the prize with an essay on Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki Expedition. The following year I received the Forsyth Examination Prize, forty dollars worth of books—a new and unexpected treasure.”

Come to think of it, here was a young school boy at the age of 18 making an important decision to make books, writing, and reading an important part of his future. Participating in the literature competition, writing an essay about his favourite book, and winning a major international prize of books, gave him the impetus to look beyond the horizon to a future unknown to him.

The Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare counted on the new and unexpected treasure in books to move on to Sogeri in 1956 where he met Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane, Sir Alkan Tolol, Aisea Taviai, and Sir Ronald Tovue. His first job after graduation from the Sogeri Education Centre was Utu School in New Ireland where he taught English, geography, and social science.

He then had taught in Brandi High School in 1959 and later at Tusbab High School in 1960. In 1962 the Grand Chief returned to Sogeri for one year to get his Queensland form four certificate.

He returned to Madang to teach at Talidig Primary School in 1963, before joining the publications section of the Education Department. In this job he contributed legends and short stories as well as write simple scripts for the Education Department’s program, Listen and Learn, which was broadcasted on the ABC.

The fascination with radio led him to join the Department of Information and Extension Services as a radio announcer with the newly opened Radio Wewak. If he was not reading the news in English and Tokpisin, the Grand Chief went out as the information officer to collect news, interview people in the rural areas, and to collect stories. This was the time the Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare became politically active, a moment in his life that would launch him into the national political scene in later years. The rest is history for young Papua New Guineans to emulate.

I share this part of our Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare’s life at this time of celebrating the National Book Week because many people need to know the importance of books. The Grand Chief stood on the back of books to make the journey from a humble beginning to greatness as the founding father of the Independent nation of Papua New Guinea, as its Prime Minister, and with it came other respects such as the longest serving parliamentarian in the Commonwealth and the favourite son of the Sepiks.

Many avid followers of Steven’s Window will note that every week I share what I read from books of importance to me. Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s Sana, is one book I keep as a treasured book in my personal library. Sharing part of his early life in this column would not have been possible if I did not have the Prime Minister’s autobiography at my disposal.

I count on the importance of books, writing, reading, and literature. I have invested my life in books as a writer and as a teacher in the field of literature. Sharing some of these books weekly in my column is a way of contributing to the knowledge bank of this great nation.

This year’s National Book Week theme: Count On Books…Read is a command to Papua New Guineans to use books as instruments of liberation from the prison of illiteracy and poverty. Papua New Guinea will become a literate nation if it counts on books and reading as an important development foundation.

Email: sewinduo@gmail.com

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