HERE on a beautiful and tranquil 500 square metre block two kilometres upstream from Denglangu Catholic Mission Station, live more than 50 special children with their guardian Martin Tine and his wife Gertrude.
They are orphans and children without parents and their home is the Irugl Mother of Life Centre (MOLC).
MOLC is located on the side of Papua New Guinea’s highest mountain, Mt Wilhelm, in the Gembogl District of Simbu Province.
It is a three-hour 4-wheel drive vehicle north from Kundiawa on a rough road that follows the Warasimbu River.
At 2,500 meters above sea level, Irugl is one of the highest altitude area of human habitation in PNG. This is the land of the Mauglak tribe and it’s about a half-hour drive from Gembogl government station.
Irugl MOLC was established in March 2003 by a Dutch lay missionary in honour of his late wife, Agatha, a local girl from Sako clan, who had married Martin van der Palen at Denglagu Mission in 1967.
In 1977, after 11 years in PNG, the family - which now included a daughter Magereta, two sons Alex and Raphael and an adopted son Anton - moved back to Netherlands, visiting their Irugl family for a short holiday in 1984.
But after they returned to the Netherlands, Agatha died after a short illness. On her death bed, she asked Martin to go back to Irugl to set up a special school for the disadvantaged children of the area.
Martin honoured Agatha’s request and returned to PNG in early 2003. Using his own resources and with help from his Irugl in-laws and financial assistance from friends in Holland, Martin erected a classroom, a dormitory, a small church, living quarters for caretakers and a prayer house. The first 10 children moved into the centre in June of that year.
Irugl MOLC is now 12 years old and home to more than 50 disadvantaged children aged from five to 15 and all from around the Gembogl district.
The centre has grown – it now has a dormitory, four classrooms, a church, a 10 bed-guest house and three staff accommodation units. It now has its own electricity supply from a one kilowatt hydropower unit.
The school maintains the two- kilometre road from Denglagu Catholic Mission including a log bridge and a footbridge connecting the school to the beautiful church and guest house on the opposite side of the river. The guest house is sometimes used by visitors who pay a small fee.
Until 2011, the school was financially supported by Martin van der Palen and a small band of his friends, mostly aged pensioners from the Netherlands. In the last three years, this support ceased as the pensioners died.
The MOLC children along with their guardians had to make gardens on the hillsides to support themselves.
The involvement of Simbu Children Foundation (SCF) in the project had started in 2008 when founder and president Jimmy Drekore visited the school. The plight of the children touched Jimmy and he became immediately involved with MOLC.
SCF realised that electricity was a priority need for the centre. It raised funds from its strong pool of Simbu elites from within and outside PNG and undertook a feasibility study of hydro-electricity generation from a nearby creek.
In 2014, SCF secured funding from the Digicel Foundation and the centre now has a brand new classroom with chalkboards, desks and water tanks.
Members of the Simbu Children Foundation seek every opportunity to support beautiful Irugl and its lovely children. They even spend Christmas there, bringing presents and holding a small party.
But Irugl MOLC is in a critical position. With its Netherlands funding source gone, another benefactor needs to quickly step up to keep the centre running. Garden food alone cannot sustain it.
SCF cannot fill the financing gap. Government schools and health centres are in a dilapidated state across the province and throughout PNG, and government funding cannot be relied on. It looks like it has to be a project for our local politicians.
Irugl MOLC is a special place. The peace and quiet of the area, the beautiful voices of children singing and playing in the small front yard, the crash of the cold white river cascading downhill, the glorious flowers, the undisturbed rainforest on the hillsides and the friendly Simbus in the smoke-filled hamlets provide tranquillity in this place.
Irugl gives opportunities to desperate children who would otherwise be neglected and just add to the worsening social ills of our society.
Irugl MOLC has already witnessed the success of two of its first students. Kombo Bundo is studying Business Administration at PNG University of Technology. George Ulka has completed an electrical engineering course at Don Bosco.
Hopefully, there will be more Irugl success stories.
Martin Tine and his staff are doing an extraordinary job giving opportunities to these Simbu children. And SCF is supporting the MOLC in many ways.
The Irugl Mother of Life Centre is a success story built by good hearts. In the near future other good hearts will arise to ensure MOLC continues to realise its noble intent.
Mathias Kin is a member of the Simbu Children Foundation and Simbu Writers Association. He comes from Salt Nomane Karimui District and is based in Kundiawa