Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hope Academy

Setting up the Broadband network on Nimowa

I met Father Anthony Young, the Australian priest on Nimowa Catholic Mission Station, in the Milne Bay Province in late December 2012. I quickly got to admire for his dedication and unselfish life to serve as the head priest to the people of Nimowa, Sudest Island, Yeina Island, Panatinance Island, Panawina Island, and other neighbouring islands.  Father Young arrived in Nimowa in 1964 and remained there for most of his life.

Father Young inherited a mission station with a school established soon after the Second World War. It was built on the land that a Catholic Philipino, Florentino Paulisbo had bought before the war to make a coconut plantation.  Florentino  married a local woman at Yule Island. They had one son, Joseph, from that marriage and an adopted son, Leo. Joseph lived at Panapompom where he ran a plantation and trade store.

Leo offered land on Nimowa to the Catholic missionaries. After the war Leo opened a school and gave religious instructions to the children until the first missionaries arrived on December 19th 1947. 

Father Kevin Toomey, the founder of Nimowa, took up residence in 1947. Father Guichet (French M.S.C), Paul and wife Agnes from Basilaki, and Fergusson Islander, James Wagu, accompanied Father Toomey. The rest is history with Father Toomey teaching and supervising classes as well as doing pastoral duties.

Father Young started an original project called Hope Academy to cater for the large number of students unable to continue their education after grade eight. The project is developed around the wireless broadband network covering a wide area of the islands from which students can learn using modern IT technologies.

He was kind enough to email me two documents detailing this pioneer project.  Imagine emailing from an island cut off from the rest of PNG?

“A grant from the PNG Sustainable Development Fund five years ago financed the equipment for the backbone of our wireless network, some equipment for village classrooms, and the training of six technicians in the maintenance and handling of the network, ” reports Father Young in a short report.

The challenges are acknowledged as the Hope Academy in Nimowa gathers popularity among students in this remote part of Papua New Guinea.

“When we began the project, we were already tutoring 20-30 students to gain their Matriculation (Gr. 12). Word spread, and we had more and more students knocking on the door, wanting to enroll. We couldn’t turn them away, but finally we reached a stage where we couldn’t squeeze any more into the dormitories or the old classrooms we were using.”

 In 2011 and 2012 the school began the year with about 100 students.  Private donations helped pay for food to feed the students on Nimowa. With a shoestring budget the school is struggling to meet the increasing demands for such an education.

“The result was that we continued work on our online Academy project on a shoestring, compared to what would normally be budgeted for the kind of work we were doing.”

The problem now is that many of the students do not have the money to pay the tuition and course materials. There are no economic sources or government initiatives to encourage income generation on these last islands.

It is an unfair world. It must be painful to deal with a situation where the high cost of tuition and resource materials are unaffordable to many students.

Father Young has been appealing to government authorities to assist the development of education in this remote corner of Papua New Guinea. No one is listening to him. Without government support the development of minds, hearts, and bodies of a whole group of people is the uphill battle Father Young faces everyday.

Chatting with Father Young helped me to see that many people in our country have no idea how difficult it is to provide education to those children living in isolated pockets of communities in the remotest parts of Papua New Guinea.

“For staff these last two years we have had four tutors, and 3 of the original 6 technical staff (all paid from our private funding) plus myself… We had occasional help from the technical staff of Education Milne Bay who were generously freed to work with us for a few weeks at a time. None of us had any previous experience of what we were trying to achieve; in fact, to my knowledge, there was no precedent we could have followed. We had to proceed carefully, and slowly, because mistakes were liable to be costly.”

The church is doing its part in providing education to Papua New Guineans. The government must look outside the box to assist Papua New Guinean students meet the high tuition costs that seem to prevent intellectual development of our young people in rural areas.  

Hope Academy in session on Nimowa
 “Despite all of the above we now feel confident that we are on the way to being able to provide a secondary education to many of the non-selected students from islands covered by our network. What about the other islands and places in Milne Bay from which we already have a large number of students? What is the future?”  Father Young asks as he ponders over the many issues and challenges.

The Hope Academy is an excellent project that needs all the financial and resource support from the government. No blind eye must be cast to this wonderful opportunity developed in a rural setting to provide education to all the students from the remotest part of our country.

I hope the Governor and the Samarai Murua MP look at the plight of students on their districts and areas. Financially supporting the development of education at all levels in these remotest islands will give the people real opportunities to participate meaningfully in national development and give meaning to the Vision 2050.

On reflection it is encouraging to witness the use of modern technology to bring education to students in the remotest parts of Papua New Guinea. The Hope Academy on Nimowa is an exciting development template.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lessons in Gold

Mount Rattlesnake in background, Sudest Island.

The discovery of gold near Laloki and Brown Rivers in the 1870s did not make mining an economically viable option.

It was the 1888 discovery of gold on Sudest Island in the Milne Bay Province that led to a gold rush of Europeans from the declining goldfields of North Queensland.

Further discoveries of gold in Woodlark and Misima around the same time saw the heavy presence of Europeans in any one time on these islands.

Eight years later The Brisbane Courier (Qld) of Saturday 17 October 1896 published Sir William Macgregor, the Lieutenant Governor of New Guinea, an account of this mining.

“On the 23rd the steamer anchored at the east end of Hula Bay, on the south side of Sudest island, some half-a-mile from the store built by the British New Guinea Gold Mining Company. It is at the head of this bay that the company is to carry on its operations.”

“Some time ago certain gold-bearing quartz veins were discovered on the main hill range of the Island by some of the old-established miners of Sudest. The site of these deposits is three or four miles west of Mount Rattlesnake, and nearly the same distance north from the head of Hula Bay. The discoverers sold their interests in this reef, or took shares in the new company. The later had the reef examined by experienced and competent men and they are now occupied in getting quart-crushing machinery on to the ground.”

“The company would not, however, enter on this undertaking unless the Government would let them have for twelve months the services of about fifty prisoners. I am well aware that any such arrangement is quite unusual, and can be justified only by very exceptional circumstances, and can be carried out satisfactorily in practice only when the greatest care is exercised in regard to supervision. It seemed to me to be of the greatest importance to this colony that a start should be made in the more permanent form of mining from the quartz reefs. The alluvial workings are not of themselves of much advantage to the Possession on account of the fugitive nature of the Industry.”

“In this country the European miner on alluvial workings leaves whenever he obtains a certain amount of gold; then he and what he has got pass on to some white man’s country, leaving the stock of gold in this colony so much the less. Very few of the men settle here. In eight years only three or four of them have taken up any land in this colony.”

Sir William MacGregor consented to the services of fifty prisoners to work in the gold fields of Sudest. Their contract was for 12 months only. Free labourers were recruited from Rossell Island.

The company had purchased 444 acres of land at Pantava, where they built a general store, kept a small herd of cattle. The landing-place for the mine was on the Hula River.

According to MacGregor, the government “has done everything it possibly could do to facilitate and encourage the operations of the company, even to the extent of seriously interfering with such public works as building a seawall at Port Moresby and another at Samarai-works that languish in the absence of the best prison labour. I trust that the exceptional circumstances of the colony may be held to justify the very few unusual course which I have followed in this matter.”

The Lieutenant Governor’s final remarks were exceptionally telling.

“There are now only a few miners on Sudest Island probably about half-a-dozen. The natives work intermittently in obtaining gold on their own account, many of them being provided with miners’ ‘right’, but they do not exercise the protective rights afforded by these. When a native discovers a good patch, and this becomes known, all his relations and friends come and work on it on their own behalf. The whole Island seemed to be perfectly quite.”

These remarks helped me to see the benchmark to alluvial gold mining in the country. It has also served as the best early account of what would become a fly in fly out operation in Misima mine in later years, between June 1989 and late 2004.

As I sat listening to the narratives of gold mining on the Island I was bothered with knowing that this Island first experienced the heavy European presence in the 1880s the island was never developed enough. Sudest has no modern road system linking all the villagers on the island, the government station at Tagula is in derelicts, and most of the villagers remain in traditional houses, use traditional canoes, and live their way of life as it was then.

Nothing much has changed since that period, except for Griffin Point Primary School and several churches on the Island.

In 2012 Frontier Resources (ASX: FNT) announced its discovery of gold in a trench outcrop on Sudest Island.

According to Peter A. McNeil, Chairman and Managing Director of Frontier Resources: “No drilling has ever been undertaken on Sudest and less than 5% of the strike of the 45 km anomalous zone has been only cursorily evaluated by soil geochemistry or trenching, yet results outlined to date are very promising, including up to 2 metres of 104.5g/t fold along with 2 metres of 15.35 g/t gold, 6 metres of 10.9 g/t gold, 2 metres of 16.0 fold and 2m of 11.6 g/t gold.

“Frontier has so far demonstrated rock assays of up to 256 grams per tonner (g/t) gold with 19g/t silver,” reports Bevis Yeo.

Frontier Resources, a Perth based company, with an exploration licence will continue to assess the exploration of gold and silver on Sudest Island.

The question now is: If full scale mining takes places on Sudest Island what are the developmental benefits to these Islanders with no real government development initiatives in all these years?

If anything, the 12 clans on Sudest Island must not see the repeat of 1880s mining history.

They must see real tangible developmental benefits.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Glass Pieces of 2012

Sunrise in Louisiade Archipelago December 23rd 2012
I may have done little things this year that may not count as significant. In no way are they a waste of time. Many little things put together in a basket carry the weight of great things. It is the compound value that makes me proud as an individual. The year has been a little slow sometimes. Other times life was fast paced that to remember every second of it is impossible now.  We can only remember few that are captured in the Steven’s Window column of The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea.

Steven’s Window has enjoyed one more year of satisfaction in providing informative reading materials for followers of this column. In reviewing the existence of this column I am both humbled and fulfilled as the author of this column.

I remain committed to the community I write for. The weekly thoughts and observations about events, experiences, and effects of social political meanderings in our fast changing society have served as the glass pieces glued together to form the window in The National newspaper. I captured some of the local and national happenings. Others I just let them pass me because others would pick them up. There are some things I can write about because I feel compelled to do so. Others I just cannot. In 1000 words I can only capture as much as I can, but not everything I could have captured as readers tried to remind me sometimes.

Sometimes the ideas shared in this column may not have landed on welcoming surfaces. Sometimes the ideas may have drowned in the deep ocean of the Pacific. In most cases I am convinced that Steven’s Window had opened a world that many readers at first thought was closed to them. I hope that the Window has made a difference in the way we see life or respond to events around us. It may not be a major difference, but it is a new perspective with a difference.

I have maintained a type of voice that is not aligned with any political parties or their adherents. The Window has always been a simple person’s voice that everyone can understand and communicate in or with each other. I have tried to remain committed to making simple observations that in our busy life we may have ignored. The column has remained committed to speaking about our common experience rather than about something out there, beyond us, beyond the here and now experience.

The column is an outreach part of my life as a writer, scholar, and academic with a life commitment to see the development of Papua New Guineans in different walks of life. The ideas shared in the column are for many who do not have the same privilege as some of us have. In some sense the outreach I am engaged in is in part social activism in the sense of sharing my ideas and thoughts and in part cultural activism in the development, promotion, and valuing of culture, arts, literature, books, libraries, literacy, education, and other related aspects such as policies and their developments.

The experience I gained in providing a weekly column is that I am comforted with the sense that people are really reading the Window with enthusiasm. Every week the column, except for few, I have tried to maintain a sense of interest in the kinds of things I write about.  I hope the faithful followers of the Window have seen the world in a different way to one that they were used to. 

To those who looked through the Window and saw nothing perhaps it is not the right window to view the world. The Window with which we have viewed the world through this year is one too narrow and more focused on specific topics than it might be for many.  It is only one view of the world. There are many views and perspective, which we cannot always hold through the narrow prisms of the Window. Perhaps other windows must open up.

The thing about writing is that you have to find some outlet, some venue to express yourself, or simply find the right canvas to paint the pictures you want as an artist; to use that apt metaphor. Simply, said, this column has given me the opportunity to exist and be heard as a writer, where the opportunities to do so are few in this country. A traditionalist I am, when it comes to writing, because the print media serves as the foundation for launching my writing life into other media venues.

I admire some of the writings in the electronic media that I am part of as a reader, I still prefer using the traditional print media for one simple reason.  Having something printed on paper has a magical feel that propels certain kinds of emotions only the writer of a work can feel.  It’s like your first love which you cannot let go no matter how many others your meet in your life. That deeply buried soul that propels you on, but which refuses to die deep down there in that world of the writer. Great writers draw from that deeply buried soul that inspires them to go on writing.

This is the last article for 2012. I would like to take the opportunity now to thank all loyal followers of Steven’s Window and wish you all a Happy New Year 2013. May all the dreams, visions, and goals that you set for yourself come to your doorstep in 2013. Remember, to do your 101 goals in the New Year. I will do mine. To achieve your goals you must take the right actions starting the first day of the New Year.

I look forward to the NEW YEAR and to continue to share the journey with you in the year ahead of us.  I hope 2013 will bring you great happiness, good health, abundant wealth, economic security, solid relationships, and a long life. 

God Bless You.

A Simple Christmas

Spent my 2012 Christmas on Sudest Island, Milne Bay Province, PNG
Christmas starts for many people as a time of great expectations. I think of Christmas as a time of affirmation of our lives through the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man. It is the humbleness and simplicity that define this experience. It is not the pretense, pompous expressions of the rich and wealth of a person, but the expressions of celebrating the simple things in life. Most important of all is Life, which many take for granted. 

As I write this in Port Moresby I am wishing that the many Christmas celebrations I had with my cousins, uncles, aunties, and many Bubus in the village unfolds again for me. Those years in my youth were times I spent more in the village without care about how much money we need, Christmas gifts, luxurious holidays, or those wild drinking parties and night-outs in the clubs. In some sense the simple village holidays were always eventful and sometimes outlandish, but civil according to our mentors. We were a civil bunch they say.

The Christmas is a time to also pause in our busy lives for a well-deserved break.  Many of us have been working full steam this year. We need this time to pause for that one week between December 25th and January 02nd to find some quality time to be with our families and relatives. It is a time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

It is a time for us to celebrate a renewal of spirit in the life we have through the celebrations we accept in the Christian calendar as the Birth of baby Jesus in Jerusalem. It is a time of peace and happiness for all Christians.

Jesus was born in the manger with no crib for a birth. This is part of a Christmas Carol that I can never get out of my head as I think about the simple and humble birth of Jesus. It is true that sometimes we forget that and make Christmas look so expansive and beyond the simplicity to which the reference was originally made. I think this is part of the problem with today’s modern celebrations with so many complicated styles of celebrating Christmas.

Let me tell a story. I spent as many as five Christmas living in the United States of America. One of the pleasures of Christmas was to drive around the metropolis admiring the light works people go through the trouble of putting up on their houses and yards. The more competition the more bigger they became every year. In our pleasures of seeing the best light shows we forget that it is about the simple beginning of the birth of Jesus. The light shows were not really about the birth of Jesus, they were about something else that now I can only think of as modern exhibition of material fetish in fluorescence display. 

The celebration of the simple birth of Jesus is often felt with the sharing of presents among friends and families on Christmas Eve. Around the presents are open and by 11.00pm a brunch is had among those who shared presents. The afternoon is spent attending organized activities such as sports or visit to a zoo or other events, and perhaps a dinner together. The next day is, of course, the Boxing Day when shops are open for return of goods purchased, which have some default or that can be refunded for cash value. 

Our society Papua New Guinea is also changing so fast. The way we celebrated Christmas before may not be the same now.  We may also forget celebrating Christmas in a simple way that gives more meaning to that experience than if we indulge ourselves in expansive Christmas celebrations.

In many PNG villages people will celebrate the Christmas together with some of the traditional cultural events that are held at this time of the year. It could be canoe racings, yam harvests, traditional singsings, or peace-making ceremonies. Some communities have long observed the entire month of December as important to the end of the year festivities to mark various important events or achievements of the tribe or village or community as a whole.  It is an ideal time for such celebrations. Many people return home for vacation during that time. It makes sense to celebrate together with everyone home for Christmas.

It is important that people return to the simple things in life during the Christmas period. In whatever way Christmas is celebrated it is important for people to maintain a sense of simplicity and humbleness. Keep things simple and enjoy the holiday period this year.

I do hope the Christmas period will be stress free for many people who are on their recreational leave. Try not to over-commit yourself with many of the trappings of holiday obligations. Returning to work in the New Year with a zero balance in your account is a stress inducing experience. Remain committed to basics and simple expressions of yourself. 

In many of our communities the spirit of Christmas in the Christian sense of it will prevail. Many people will follow the rituals of Christmas with their hearts and minds. In the same token many will also offer their prayers and help to those who need help. One of the special gifts anyone can give to those who are in need is a little kindness and love.

In whatever way we choose to celebrate Christmas and remember the birth of Jesus Christ, we must do so with humility, humbleness, and in simplicity.  We need to remind ourselves that Christmas is a time to renew our faith and review the life we have lived so far.

Have we followed the path that we were meant to take or have we veered off the road to where we did not want to go.

It is a time for reflections of our own purpose for being here on this earth. We need to ask ourselves what God wants us to do.