|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.