I was 21 years old when I lived in Lasitewa dormitory during my second year of studies at the University of Papua New Guinea. It was a time I had to decide what I wanted to do in my life. I was struggling with myself to understand whether I should pursue the vocation of Marist Brotherhood as it became clearer that soon my superiors would be asking for me to take my vows of celebacy. It was the most difficult of decisions for a 21-years old, with no family members in Port Moresby that I can talk to about the decision. That was 1985, a year after Pope John Paul’s first visit to Papua New Guinea. That visit was fresh as we had celebrated mass at the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium.
I was also struggling to make the decision between studying political science and public administration or to pursue the study of philosophy. I opted for the study of philosophy instead. I found myself developing an interest in the field of literature. As it turned out in later years, those subjects appealed to me not for their vocational attributes, but because of their intellectual and scholarly appeal to me. All my cohorts ended up with a definite job and position in the government or private sector. I trudged on to thrive and excel in the academic environment.
The decision I made at that time to focus on literature came much more later in 1986 when I was in my third year of studies. It was also the time I set my goals to pursue an overseas masters and a doctorate in English.
I am reflecting on this personal journey because of the sentimental value I have of Lasitewa dormitory, which was destroyed by fire at the end of June 2012. The dormitory had provided me the space to deal with the critical decisions I had to do that would change my life for what it is today.
In the year I stayed in Lasitewa dormitory Papua New Guinea celebrated the 10th Anniversay of Independence. I was one of the student volunteers in the official celebrations. I was the Liasion Officer for the PNG government and the Indonesian Government, responsible for the cultural dance troupe from Bali, who had come to celebrate our Independence. The whole week of celebration I had the responsibility to make sure our visitors were properly looked after. Knowing I was contributing something to my country at the time of celebrating ten years of Independence was more important to me. At least as a student I had participated in a meaningful way as a proud citizen in an Independent nation.
Now that I think of it some of the prominent leaders in our country today were students at that time. Most of us from that generation have developed a keen sense of what it meant to be a respectable citizen. Some of us from that generation ended up becoming successful in our individual paths before turning to politics in later years.
As we begin the second semester at UPNG main campus I am a bit depressed at the way things turned out last semester. There was so much destruction to Central Administration, the Bookshop and the Library, and now the burning down of the Lasitewa dormitory. I am not blaming anyone for the fire that gutted the dormitory, but dormitories in UPNG had stood the test of time until this generation. I am appealing to the students to respect the properties of the state that others coming after them will benefit from. My generation has looked after the buildings that this generation now benefits from, so must they for the next generation.
UPNG administration must wake up to a certain trend that has taken hold of the campus. In the 21 years I have been teaching at UPNG I have not seen one building falling on its own. Even though many of the buildings were built in the 1960s and 1970s with consistent electrical faults they were generally been tolerated.
Having said that I must add that the Kuri Dom Building is one of the most neglected building on campus. Several classrooms, staff offices, and general offices have leaking roofs, wet floors, exposed telephone cables, and old fans, lights, and powerpoints. Our requests for urgent maintenance work on the leaking roof, poor electrical connections, and aircondition units have been never received considerations as one would have expected. From the way things are this building poses more health and fire hazard at this time. I think the Kuri Dom building has gone passed its use-by date.
I think UPNG administration must now consider expanding the campus through a rehabilitation program of old buildings and build new classrooms because of the increased number of students every year. It is no longer a joke to see students hanging outside of the door during lectures because the lecture and tutorial rooms are too small. Where is the multipurpose hall we have been hearing about over years? The Arts Lecture Theatre (ALT) is a disaster when there are constant power outages, let alone with no internet connection for online lectures. The ALT has become too small for large class sizes, especially for the first and second year courses.
I think we should not wait for an existing building to be burnt down before we think about rebuilding a new one in its place. It is important to exercise some sense of growth in building infrastructure, releasing heavily used spaces, and giving room for people to live, study, and work in stress. Most of us who have been working here for more than tweny years know we have to deal with small office spaces and poor conditions of some of the classrooms we teach in such as those L Rooms and in the Kuri Dom Building.
I hope the day when someone sues UPNG for ignoring its duty of care responsibilities as a statutory organization will never come. Right now we are fine.