IN the outer regions of Simbu Province are schools in rugged terrain which are accessible only by Toyota LandCruiser.
But this was no hindrance for Francis Nii and me on our drive to Kewamugl Lutheran High School in the early morning of Monday 18 August.
It took us two hours of bumping through the gorges of Jiwaka and Simbu Province to reach the school, located on the border of Mid-Waghi and Kuman languages villages. It’s a small school with about 250 students.
We entered the school precinct at 12 noon as the bell rang for lunch hour. The students on their way to the mess for lunch were caught by surprise as we made our way across their superb lawn.
Suddenly, the head of the English department, Josephine Peter appeared and told the students to convene at the assembly ground. She informed them that they had visitors on campus to talk about writing.
We sat beneath one of the huge pine trees while the students headed in our direction.
They sat and encircled Francis while I stood at his back. Josephine Peter gave a warm welcome and, after her remarks, Francis looked at me to provide an introduction.
I spoke about the motive and purpose of us coming into Kewamugl and, as I finished, Francis wasted no time continuing the discussion.
He introduced the Simbu Writers Association, its aims and its main objective of promoting literature in Simbu schools. The outcome, he said, would be to promote a competitive level of English in the schools. He also said that effectively learning English comes from reading, speaking and writing it.
He mentioned that the SWA had come up with a literary competition to encourage students in the province to write and express themselves.
Francis also mentioned that the theme, ‘Simbu for Literary Excellence’, has drawn literature fans within Papua New Guinea and abroad to sponsor the awards: people like Keith Jackson, Bob Cleland and Phil Fitzpatrick from Australia as well as Simbus like Sil Bolkin , Saina Solomon, Dixon Daii, Porol Yuke, John Par Kagl who are residing elsewhere in PNG and in Australia. There have also been anonymous donors.
Francis commended the sponsor since their contributions motivated students in remote schools to compete. Francis further highlighted that the essays, short stories and poems will be compiled and published as a Simbu Schools Anthology.
His words provoked the students to break out in cheerful applause enough to clear the clouds. They raised a lot of questions and wanted answers from us. We were able to answer in detail and satisfy any doubts.
We quoted little Tom Kaupa as the youngest contributor to this year’s Crocodile Prize Anthology and said that SWA will be the stepping stone for their writing to appear in book form and that we were here to encourage young writers to start to write today for tomorrow’s use.
To finish the session Francis had given me a copy of his novel Paradise in Peril to present to the students. I did this as Francis looked on and Josephine Peter received the book on behalf of the 250 students.
Josephine then thanked the literary awareness team and encouraged the students to start writing and produce a book at some time in the future so their contributions will occupy Simbu school libraries and libraries elsewhere in PNG.
Finally, the head boy also spent five minutes thanking the awareness team for coming to the school and encouraging students to see writing as an important component of life which lives beyond the grave.
We expect to see more entries coming from Kewamugl High School and, who knows, one of them could be declared as the winner.
We wished them all the best and, an hour after arriving, departed on the long jolurney back to Kundiawa from Kewamugl.