Monday, September 3, 2012

A View from The Mountain

This year I went to Airways Motel in time to meet Drusilla Modjeska before her departure to the fjords of Korafe in the Oro Province. Whether Drusilla comes up here from Sydney on her way to Tufi or on her way back to Sydney I usually catch up with her for breakfast at the Airways.
On her way from Sydney she usually brings me books that I could not get hold of here. In turn I would bother her with my manuscripts. Drusilla is always patient with me, which I appreciate and acknowledged in my book The Unpainted Mask, presented to her in her recent trip to Papua New Guinea.
This year I received her first novel The Mountain set in Papua New Guinea. She had worked on this book for a number of years. There were occassional mentions about the book in some of our conversations.
I was honored to have received a signed copy of The Mountain (2012). The book is a wonderful book that is spellbinding, gripping, and yet entertaining to read. I was thrilled to read the book on the weekend before the National Book Week. It took me three days to read this 432 pages long book. It was the way the book was written and Drusilla’s prose style that is affective the first time I openned the book to read. From the backcover we get a sense of what the book is all about.
In 1968 Papua New Guinea is on the brink of independence and everything is about to change. Amidst the turmoil filmmaker Leonard arrives from England with his Dutch wife, Rika, to study and film an isolated village high in the mountains. The villagers’ customs and art have been passed down through generations, and Rika is immediately struck by their paintings on a cloth made of bark.
Rika and Leonard are also confronted with a new university in Moresby, where intellectual ambition and the idealism of youth are creating friction among locals such as Milton-a hot-headed young playwright – and visiting westerners, such as Martha, to whom Rika becomes close. But it is when Rika meets brothers Jacob and Aaron that all their lives are changed forever.
Drusilla Modjeska’s sweeping novel takes us deep into this fascinating, complex country, whose culture and people cannot escape the march of modernity that threatens to overwhelm them. It is a riveting story of love, loss, grief, and betrayal.
The Mountain is an interesting work that deals with the early years of the University of Papua New Guinea, the kinds of intellectuals, artists, and fellow travellers on this incredible journey, without knowing where they were heading to. Yet the students who entered the higher education in those days knew where they were heading to—self-government and Independence. It was also a moment of self-evaluation and reassessment of values to see whether some of them are worth keeping or dropping, in order to match the changing times in Papua New Guinea. I particularly like the relationships that emerged in those years as one of coincidences along the road to Independence. It was not my generation, but I have heard discussions about it from the remnants of that generation.
One other aspect of the book I admire is the genuine and honest perception of the writer on the cultures and people of the Tufi area. The witer’s passion and respect form the Omie culture is reflected in her careful description and sensitivity towards the people whom she befriended. Only few writers like Drusilla Modjeska and Trevor Shearston can write like that. I have so much respect for them for their bringing to our discussions about sensitivity and respect for people we write about.
To get back to the book we are discussing now, it is a spellbinding book. Anna Funder describes the book “as a wonderful achievement. It is moving and panoramic. It takes us into the heat of our near neighbour Papua New Guinea in a way that’s never been done before, through the point of view of the founders of independence, their friends, and loves. At the same time, it’s a sweeping story of love and friendship, of hope and regret and of the generational loyalties we inherit, as well as the ones we create for ourselves. The Mountain is a novel as intricate and powerful as the bark-cloth paintings at its heart.”
Colleagues such as Russell Soaba and the late Regis Stella, among others, are some of the names, apart from others that I know from a recent past, who have been acknowledged in the book.
This is a work of fiction: “While the fjords of The Mountain could not have been imagined without the fjords of Korafe, they remain a place of fiction peopled by fictional characters.”
Indeed, it is a novel that also binds different generations in Papua New Guinea. In my view Drusilla has demonstrated in a powerful way her deep sense of respect and humility to the people of Tufi and Papua New Guinea. The Mountain is a testment of that respect. It is that sense I get from reading this passage: “When the time was right and Nanaji gave the signal, the gates opened and the clans from the high villeges burst into the amorire, singing their arrival. Feet stamped the ground, kundu drums kept the rhythm, each with its own voice, plumes mimicked the birds of the sun. Young men set the pace with a high step and perfect timing. Behind them came the women singing the cloth that moved against their skin. Nogi, in her soft white headdress and with the ground-spider cloth with its sunray hanging from her back, led the women. Beside her was Kimame in her plain bark-cloth and red parrot features.”
The Mountain is Drusilla’s recent book. Other titles include: Exiles at Home, the NSW Premier’s Award winner Poppy; Sisters, and the Nita B. Kibble NSW Premier’s Award and Australian Book of the Year Award winner The Orchard; Times, and Secrets.
Well done, Drusilla!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

O'Neill Keeps Promise

A pledge honoured is an important value of leadership. Last year the Prime Minister Honorable Peter O’Neill promised the Waigani Primary School that he would give money for the construction of a Science classroom.  On the 20th of July that promise was delivered. A cheque of K150,000.00 was delievered to the school. 
The Chief of Staff for the Prime Minister’s Department, Mr. Gideon Oli and a delegation visited the school and presented the cheque to the joyful students and their teachers. The occasion was witnessed by the Department of Education Representative, Mr. Steven Lapan.
As the Board Chairman I was on hand to receive the grant on behalf of the Board, the Principal, and the School.

Mr. Gideon Oli presented the cheque to the School on-behalf of the Prime Minister. It was the commitment of Prime Minister O’Neill that took a while to process, but was eventually completed just before his reappointment as the 9th Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.
Mr. Oli reiterated that under the Prime Ministership of Peter O’Neill the free education policy gave parents and citizens a reprieve this year. All school age children are in school this year. It is a government policy that has at least reduced the burden of many parents and guardians of children in schools. 
The free education policy is obviously a political creature that forms out of the political will and commitment of its leaders. The free education policy is now in place, but there are many challenges schools face such as infrastructure development and service provision for schools. Schools must continue to work hard to find solutions to some of their immediate and specific challenges.
Under the free education policy eligible schools receive direct support grant from the government. Most of these funds schools received were absorbed into the general maintenance and administration of the schools. Some schools found themselves paying outstanding areas from previous financial years. Others used up all the money before the middle of the year. Yet, most schools’s conditions and infrastructure remain the same, in poor conditions and in need of care from the schools’s management.
This view was supprted by the NCD Education representative Mr. Steven Lapan. It is the responsibility of the School Board to strategise how it moves forward with the limited resources and support given to its development. There are many challenges that every school face in provision of quality education to the young children of Papua New Guinea.
Challenges range from teacher performance to availability of teaching and learning resources. Many schools are caught up in the expected output and the values that each school has developed over time that makes each school stand out as a quality school. It is the work of teachers, pupils, Board of Management, and parents and guardians to shape, mould, and define the shape and colour of the school. It is a co-operative effort of everyone who make the education of their children a priority.  Education of the young is everyone’s responsibility. Parents and guardians must exercise commitment to the school where their children receive their education.
Mrs. Julie Tatai, Principal of Waigani Primary School was elated with the grant of K150,000.00.  Mrs.Tatai was welcomed the Prime Minister’s financial grant to the school. She was pleased that political leadership recognize the importance of providing quality education to children in thecity areas.
Mrs. Tatai said that the money would go towards building a science classroom. It is noted that the school would need further funding to build another double classroom, administration office, a library, a multi-purpose hall, and teachers’ houses. The need for infrastructural development is so great that it would help the school to get more generous support from individuals, organizations, companies, and government.
As the Chairman of the Board of Management of the School I was pleased that Honorable Peter O’Neill kept his promise made during his first visit to UPNG last year as the Parliament elect Prime Minister. The Waigani Primary School had welcomed him to UPNG with a carpet of flowers.
We congratulate Honorable Peter O’Neill on his re-election this year as the member of Ialibu Pangia. Congratulations are also due in light of the overwhelming support he received to become the 9th Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.
We feel assured that Honorable Peter O’Neill will continue to provide the leadership as a Prime Minister and continue with the free education policy. His assistance to the Waigani Primary School will go a long way to developing the school’s infrastructure. Thank you Honorable Peter O’Neill for the financial assistance you have given to the Waigani Primary School.
We hope that you will find time to visit the Waigani Primary School in the not-too-distant future.  The school is a city school. Getting financial assistance from you as Prime Minister at this time is a valued gesture that ensures that we provide the necessary facilities for students in the city attending the school.
Finally, the challenge to remain committed to providing quality education to our children is one, but another is the quality of conditions we provide for our teachers. In some schools teachers do their best to meet the expected outcome of the outcome based education curriculum. The resources available to teachers are limited to the extent that teachers have to find innovative ways of teaching their subjects to their students. For example, some of the learning activities are made easier with resources of internet and computer based activities. Not many public schools in the city are able to access internet resources. There are exciting possibilities of cross-cultural learning between schools in Papua New Guinea and Australia for example, that needs adequate support and funding. Would it be wonderful to see students at Waigani Primary School having cross-cultural learning experience with students in a school in Redfern, Sydney. Such real-time cyber learning can enhance a deeper understanding and set the foundation for the future leaders of this country.
With the support received we will move forward, but will still need more assistance and cooperation.