I CAN best tell my story by presenting it in sketches. Not that it is a glamorous or significant story, it’s been ordinary; yet, to me, quite spectacular!
My parents were illiterate and were unable to write any of my story, or even have photos of my early life. Now, of course, I do have photos of school, college, and university life.
The life I have now today really when I started school. But I had an earlier life which I can only recollect in patches.
My mother tells me I had a pretty typical childhood. I was born in the former Kundiawa General Hospital and a day later spent the night in Sikewake, near there.
Mother tells me I cried all night and nothing they did could make me go back to sleep. They thought I was going to die that night. And so I was introduced to life on planet earth.
For a brief period, I succumbed to all sorts of minor ailments and frequently visited the nearby Koge Health Centre with my mother.
It was an accumulation of the penicillin from injections that caused a deep-burrowing sore on my right hip. The sore caused my young legs to be weak, so that for a long time I could not walk and had to be pushed around in a wheelbarrow.
Two outcomes awaited me if nothing was done: death or permanent inability to walk. Mother was frantic. I was her first child and she was not going to let circumstance dictate the outcome.
She swung into action and took me to all the doctors in Simbu who had an opinion or advice. She did this carrying me in a bilum and walking for the most part because there were few PMVs then.
My mother told me that a particular doctor saved me by applying a treatment not known in medical science at the time.
So I have a scar to show my children. I am convinced that, though life did not favour me above others, it did keep me safe within its palms. For that I am thankful every day.
After I began primary school in the early 1980s, many of the boys and girls I went to school with left after a year or two. School to them appeared gruelling and punishing.
They got caned for coming late and for fighting, for not bringing lunch and sometimes for not washing. They would be made to stand on one leg in front of class and they were made to pick leaves or clean a classroom if they were up to any mischief on school grounds.
But I survived because I liked listening to the stories of the teachers and the radio programs about Yokomo, Raka, Ranu, Noka, Tabu and other personalities.
School was also a place where my character was shaped. I did not always have lunch money and sometime missed breakfast. Mum did her best but she had another five mouths to feed. Although we never went to bed hungry, there were times when I did not have food to eat for breakfast or lunch.
I did not have a pair of shoes until I was in high school. Yet somehow life did not push me away, it kept me in. I grew up not expecting much from my parents but making the most out of the things that were in front of me.
I sometimes tell my own children, who now go to school, to appreciate the things they have that I lacked back then: running water, a secure roof, power, school uniforms and clothes, lunch money, shoes, books and access to technology and information.
And I have always taken them to the best doctors in town if they felt sick. I want them to appreciate the things they have now and how they can become better people in a holistic sense. Not just through wealth, possessions or fleeting success.
I am very pleased that my two daughters are doing well in secondary school in Port Moresby. Both have strong inclinations to careers in the natural and physical sciences.
During the final year in primary school, I began to develop a liking for reading. I read anything I came across. I think this did more than anything to improve my performance in other subjects.
I slowly gained confidence but doing something with this confidence would wait a few years down the line.
I read notes, books and anything with words during the day and beside the fire or by candlelight at night. I am certain this habit contributed to my bad eyesight. The obsessive reading habit followed me into high school. By the time I reached Grade10, I had to sit in front and squint to see the board clearly.
I have always considered myself lucky, which is not quite the same as being successful. I was among the many students from Muaina High School who went to national high schools in PNG. We set the record for the most number of students going to national high schools and other colleges. A record I believe still stands today!
Back then there were only four national high schools. We were on a government scholarship called Natschol. I was supported by this until I completed my studies at the University of PNG in 1996.
We were among the last group of students to be awarded national scholarships, since then things have changed.
I consider myself lucky to have travelled widely within PNG and abroad, including Australia and England and countries in Asia and the Pacific.
I have discovered that confidence is an important ingredient to realising one’s potential.
Two things happened at high school that cemented my conviction to pursue a life of knowledge and the development of human capability.
The first was in Grade 7 when I offered the correct meaning for the word “comprehend.” I knew exactly what it meant as I had earlier studied the word and its meaning.
The second incident was after I scored the highest mark in the written expression examination in Grade 10 at Muaina; it was one of the highest marks in Simbu Province at that time. I scored 19/20.
I have written about both incidents in a piece I wrote for the Crocodile Prize in 2015 entitled, If you can read this, thank a teacher.
In my own life, I have seen in the power of reading and writing. I have been promoted these gifts and encouraged people, especially young people, to read and write.
I realise now that to say that some aspects of my life have been bad and others good would be unfair to life itself.
Life has always presented itself to me simply. It did not colour one day different from another. Nor did it value one event in my life more importantly than the rest.
However, the events I prefer to remember as important include: getting selected for high school which started this life of learning; attending Passam National High School; receiving a government scholarship to attend UPNG; walking up to the podium to get my degree with my mother looking on; working with an international NGO for four years; receiving a European Union Scholarship for post-graduate studies at Reading University in the UK; and working for a time with Australia’s development assistance agency, AusAID.
A few other events that should be added to this list have facilitating the development of plans and fundraising that resulted in Muaina High School becoming a secondary school in 2010. The recognition and blessing for this came from then Education Minister James Marape.
I see myself in a privileged position now to impart knowledge in my own field and also instil in students the desire and belief to realise their potential.
Becoming an academic was not my dream job or intention, but I have come to thoroughly enjoy it. It presents me with the opportunity to impart some of the wisdom I have accumulated over the years. And the fun part is that I am always learning new ideas and taking on new challenges.
While teaching, I have been presented with many opportunities to provide consultancies, views and perspectives to international and national organisations.
I have developed the Career Development and Employment Enhancement Program on UPNG Waigani campus to assist students to develop a sense of career and enhance their employment prospects.
Three years ago I partnered with Michael Esop of the Psychology Strand at UPNG to introduce into the program career tools or psychological tests. I am thrilled that Dr Leo Marai, a specialist in industrial psychology, is lending his support.
Together we are building a very strong team around a vibrant program. This is what excites me, since it is doing something different that is appreciated and needed by the students.
I have received many positive testimonies from students and young people who have attended our workshops on how they have applied the learning in their job applications and career choices. Many have secured jobs after attending the workshops.
Because of my human service background and involvement with young people, I have been invited to apply to be a mentor in the Queen’s Young Leaders Program through Cambridge University in the UK.
If selected, I will mentor a young leaders in PNG or the Commonwealth for a year. These are young people who have been recognised by the Queen herself.
Of course I will do this without payment.
And I have made up my mind to continue to promote writing and reading on the UPNG Waigani campus, in Port Moresby and in PNG. This will be an important part of my life going forward.