IT'S amazing what can happen when you least expect it. From a simple word at the right time.
This year in Pittsworth, Queensland, Rotarians Aub Schulstad and Trevor Shields got talking about providing help for an 89-year old disabled gentleman who retired to the Pittsworth area after living in Papua New Guinea for over 40 years.
When Trevor Shields heard the words 'Papua New Guinea' he thought of a major book project his club was about to undertake for PNG.
The request for help from Pittsworth Rotary came from Angela Sowai Gizoria from the village of Pes in PNG.
Angela wanted to establish a library in a bush primary school near Aitape in Sandaun Province. She was hoping to fulfill a lifelong dream by establishing the library to service 500 students from nine villages.
Aub Schulstad told Trevor Shields that the Rotary Club of Laurieton had encyclopaedias, educational books, children's books and numerous other items that were no longer required, maybe they would be of some help.
It was agreed they would, and the next challenge was how to get the books and other equipment from Laurieton to PNG. The logistical issues were solved and the pallets left Australia on their journey to PNG in late June.
As for the 89-year old disabled former PNG expat, members of Pittsworth Rotary made several visits to his home to carry out work on the property as a community service. A good result all round from a simple conversation.
And now here’s the story from the PNG end. Fr Giorgio Licini interviews Angela Gizoria:
FR GIORGIO - Can you briefly explain how the books became available?
ANGELA - Two years ago I began talking with a few people at my university about the possibility of getting book donations. They were keen to help but because they were very busy people and so we did not get very far. They gave me a few boxes of books but it was not enough.
So early this year I decided to use the social media to my advantage. I joined a number of FaceBook groups in Toowoomba. In each of these forums I wrote a brief advertisement requesting for donations of books.
I explained why I wanted the books and where they were going to be used. I also wrote letters to my daughter's school and requested for a note to be sent home with children to their parents regarding my request for donated books and school related items.
Hundreds of people responded to my request. Some of them who lived nearby and were able to drop them off at my place did. For many of them, I had to go and pick up the books. It meant that I had to hire taxis for picking up. It was costly on my part but I felt I had to see this through and it would mean using my own resources.
But the biggest blessing came when Susan Hass, a young woman who is a also school teacher called me and requested for a meeting with me. She said she was willing to help and that she needed a talk to find out more. After our meeting she went off and coresponded with schools and libraries in her small town. She asked me to write a letter explaining everything about my request and also where in PNG this stuff was going.
Soon, an advertisement on my request was publised in a local newspaper and it was also aired on the local radio station. More phone calls and emails followed. Soon my garage was overflowing with books and stuff. Susan, did the collecting in Pittsworth, her small town and stored them in her garage.
Another big hit came when a Rotary Club of Pittsworth requested for a meeting with me and Susan. We met and what followed was massive. News reached more Rotary Clubs and now I have enough stuff to fill a 20ft container.
FR GIORGIO - What kind of books are there and who made this project possible?
ANGELA - I have been given a variety of books both fiction and non-fiction. There are children's picture books, novels for kids, young adults and also mature readers. I have also collected lots of atlasses, dictionaries, world books (encyclopedias) to educational video tapes, DVDs, two TV screens, two DVD players and two VCRs.
Also in the collection are teachers' resource books and folders of worksheets donated by teachers for teaching all subjects. There are also puzzles and games for kids. The women of Pittsworth sewed up 150 library bags for chidren to borrow and take books home in.
FR GIORGIO - Where are the books to be shipped and for what purpose?
ANGELA - All these materials will be shipped to Wewak and then taken by road to St Joseph's Pes Primary School in Aitape Sandaun Province. The materials will go into a library building and will be organised in such a way that teachers can use them to enhance their teaching.
The main purpose is to give students the opportunity to read. There a lots of books to read for everyone from beginning to intermediate and also the accomplished readers. There might be a borrowing system set up for adults from the community to borrow as well because there a lots of books for adult readers too.
However, we will set up the place so there is a sort of AV corner where classes can go in to watch educational videos and then go do related activities based on them. Later on we might add computers to this section.
We will also have fiction section for factual research and project related work for especially the grade 7 and 8 students. Then there will be the non-fiction section which will have all the novels and story books that kids can borrow and take home for reading. There will be books from this section that teachers can run reading programs on.
FR GIORGIO - Can other similar projects be implemented to benefit other schools on PNG?
ANGELA - I believe similar projects can be implemented to benefit many other schools in PNG. It will be easier for schools in Port Moresby and Lae as they are they main ports of call. It is harder for Aitape and it costs more in terms of freight charges because of the distance. I decided to do this for Pes, Aitape because I wanted to give back to my own people and my community.
I could have easily done that for a Port Moresby school but I feel that my own people will trust me more and I needed that trust because collaboration and cooperation are needed to pull this off. It is not too difficult to get donated books but money is required for freight and this is where that trust is very important.
The reason being that the biggest part of the freight expenses are to be paid by the school. What I did was organise for the container and everything else and send through the invoices to the school's Board of Management to fund it. This meant that there was prior planning and negotiations with my people in authoritive positions.
This is also a labourous and time consuming project. People doing this need to be committed to use their own time and also spend some money to pull it off. The biggest thing is that someone has to be on the ground managing and executing the jobs. This can't be managed from far.
FR GIORGIO - Which government or no-no government organization can more easily assist?
ANGELA - I see this as a project that the education department can easily do for schools. Some government ministers are already doing this at a smaller scale. I know that the MP for Wau Bulolo has been funding this for some time through the work of a group called "Books for PNG Kids" which some kind PNGeans in Brisbane are doing with a lady called Heather. However, books sent through this group do not get to remote places like Aitape.
That was why I decided to take this on board myself. It takes someone with special connections to these remote communities to see a project of this nature through to completion. I am not too sure if there are other organisations in PNG that can do this.
I started off thinking it is a small project that will be over when this container is filled and sent off. It has now dawned on me that I am only overseeing phase one of the project and I still have two more phases to go. I wonder who will see the seond and third phase through. I am faced with a dilemma. How do I coordinate phases 2 and 3 of this small but significant project?
There is a wealth of resources in this container. The second phase of it involves organising the resources so that the children get maximum benefit from them. The teachers at the school need to be inserviced on how to use these resources in their teaching. They have not had these resources before and I can't just assume that they will know how to use them well.
The third phase is more analytical. There has to be a follow up sort of process. I have to have some sort of mechanism in place to monitor the use and benefits of this. How do I know that the school has gotten good value from the resources? This is a tough one and I do not have immediate ideas on this as yet.