Well, here I am at the end of my first working week in Kundiawa. It’s been a strange and disorienting process, meeting new and old friends and colleagues, trying to work out how to get online, settling into my huge house (three bedrooms, no less!) and trying to decide where I’ve put my things - I get up in the morning, waking an hour before sunrise at 6a.m., and forget where I’ve put my phone charger or the bag of laundry I was going to do, etc.
The scenery is even more stunning than I remember, the mountains green and powerful, clouds floating half way up, trees reaching right over the peaks, which must be over 2000m. Even here, at 1500 m., the air is thin and I puff a bit climbing up the hill on the way to the Education Division in the morning. The mornings are cool, maybe 16 or 18C. Midday the sun is intense, but the heat here isn’t often above 25C. Unlike Madang, last week, where 30 or 35C is normal.
I’ve spent most of the week working in the Simbu English Teachers’ Association office. I can even close the door to my own little office, and it says “Editor in Chief” on the door! Since AusAID has paid for our Grade 9 textbook to be distributed to all High Schools in the country, SETA has been able to build a modern office at the back of the Education Division buildings, and equip it with modern computing equipment.
I’m here half time worrking for SETA to edit the Grade 10 text, which is all but completely written, and half time for the VSO programme Strongim Tisa, Strongim Sumatin (Strong Teacher, Strong Student). So for the latter I’m a member of a team of five volunteers from Britain, and we’re meeting groups of subject teachers from all over the province, looking at what they nbeed in the way of teaching resources, ways in which they can improve classroom practice. And one member of the team, Bill Oliver, is specifically working with Headteachers and Principals on management issues - schools lose control of staff and students, and have precious little ability to manage their budgets. In addition, local politicians who have not been elected are taking revenge by cutting water supplies to schools, etc. So managing community relationships is vital - today the Schools Inspector, Mr Pinaga, has had to suspend two high schools which are in remote areas and are not able to continue teaching for such reasons.
It’s a country of enormous contrasts. On the one hand, it is rich with natural resources, rich in intelligent human resources; on the other it faces such huge problems - no roads, or roads broken by earth tremours and washouts and other disasters (the road to Gembog, half way up Mt. Wilhelm, our tallest mountain at 4800metres, was blocked yesterday, following rains, when a massive boulder crashed down a cliff and landed on the clay road. Peter Dua, of the Works Dept., shook his head: “I had to turn back,” he said. “I’ll try to get a jack hammer up there tomorrow.” So imagine being on the other side of the blockage, at Mt. Wilhelm High School. Food for the students would have to be transported by 4WD bush vehicle up to the boulder, carried by hand around the rock, and then reloaded onto a truck on the other side.
Well, I’m fortunate. I don’t have to solve that. Today I met the Provincial Administrator, and many other officials. They are very proud that it is Simbu Province that is leading the country in producing high quality and truly Papuan learning materials. I contrast their enthusiasm with the cynicism and over bureaucratic politicking of Britain. Well, Britain has trained its youth well: Greed is Right. The riots showed what we have been taught by public officials and the media, and above all, by business. And we dare to talk about the corruption in a country like PNG! (Mind you, the PEA for Education today told me that corruption in PNG makes him literally sick. He thinks that officials like one Mr. Wotoro from East Sepik, who stole millions of Kina from schools budgets in his province, and bought some airplanes from Holland to start a new airline here, should literally be shot! Well, he is at least in jail, without bail, at present. I guess what’s different here is that his corruption is visible. In Britain, unless there’s an Expenses Scandal or something, most of our corruption is hidden. Anyway, working with some idealistic and honest people here seems a good thing to be doing!
Tomorrow I’m being taken to a village wedding - one of Matilda’s wantoks. That will make a nice break from the keyboard!
OK, prens bilong mi, mi gat bikpela ammamas long raitim yu. My dear friends, I’m happy to write you. I look forward to receiving emails if you would like to write: try my two addresses; one usually works: