MY time at Butibam Primary School just outside Lae was embarrassing. From the day I entered Grade 5 in 2003 until I completed my final year in 2006, I had trials in my life – and I looked upon these as my ‘foes’.
The first four years (1999-2002) at Butibam had been pleasant, but as the clock struck 2003 a cloud of doom descended on me like a giant shadow waiting for my little soul to pass through.
So I had trials, ‘foes’.
The main foe was poverty. For most of my friends poverty seemed as nothing but for me it was a cause of great embarrassment.
Both my parents were unemployed and we survived on whatever we could sell at the market each day. Our income was miniscule, about K6 a day - just enough for one meal, dinner. No breakfast or lunch.
I went to school and acted as if I had eaten breakfast but I was starving. Thank god for water. I drank plenty of it until I had a full stomach. Ha, I survived!
My school was near home so bus fares were not a problem. It took me only five minutes to walk to the school campus. However, getting through the gate was a constant problem for me alone.
Duty teachers stood at the gate and badly groomed students were sent home. This was my constant worry. I always combed my hair and brushed my teeth but the uniform was a headache.
I would hide from the assemblies on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays because these were uniform days and teachers were very strict about uniforms. Students without them were sent home.
I had just one school shirt, its gold colour faded by the years into a near white. Without black trousers I knew I would be sent home. Living in poverty was what I was used to. It was a norm and I didn’t care for all this uniform business. Just as long as I got educated!
I also hated class parties or any event requiring cash contributions. I had nothing to contribute. A single kina was significant money.
As a 12 year old, these were my fears and foes. I stayed away from class parties, seeing them as not part of me because I had nothing to contribute. I hung out for the ten weeks of term to pass and evolve into a welcome holiday.
When holidays were over, I felt sick and didn’t want to return to my prison camp. I did not hate education but I hated the rules and regulations and high standards. I constantly felt under threat of being kicked out.
Time passed and I waited impatiently for the next holidays. I told myself I would get a part time job and, as the Christmas holidays approached, I walked boldly into the headmaster’s office and told him I wanted a letter that might obtain me a part-time job.
“Son, what grade are you in?” he asked,
“Grade five,” I replied.
“We have letters for Grades seven and eight only. You are not eligible yet. Just go home and relax over the holiday.”
I walked from the office dismayed. I knew the holiday would be fun but also wanted to make some money to buy uniforms and books. I would be entering upper primaryin 2004.
Holidays came and I bought 50 little lollypops with two kina given to me by my aunt. I asked my mom to sell them for 20 toea each.
It was a good plan. When the holiday ended I had K80 in my hands and felt ready for Grade 6. I bought myself a uniform and exercise books, however school fees were problem. I don’t know how my parents paid them.
By this time I felt I had learnt the secret about money so I kept up the lollypop sales and had enough for contributions to class parties or anything that required some cash. I bought myself clothes and always had enough for lunch.
During Grade 6 we studied self-reliance including a subject called Making A Living. Those words were new to me so I pulled out a dictionary which told me “to depend on oneself to achieve a goal”.
I fully appreciated that. I knew what it meant to be self-reliant.
I completed Grade 7, enjoying my education and my schoolmates and on graduation day had tears in my eyes. I had successfully completed a primary school education at Butibam. And graduation was the first time in my life I had worn brand new shoes, a skyblue shirt and long dark blue pants.
After eight years of school, I was not proud. I was worried. I was not a bright student academically but an average one.
But when I opened the certificate I saw an offer to continue to high school to do Grade 9.
I felt I owed Butibam Primary School so much.
This story is dedicated to the ex Butibam Primary School students with thanks to all our teachers: Grade 1 (1999) - Miss Kalai (now Mrs N’draras) and the late Mrs Unduka; Grade 2 (2000) - Mr Tendele; Grade 3 (2001) - the late Mr Abonai; Grade 4 (2002) – Mrs Maliaki; Grade 5 (2003) – Mrs Maliaki; Grade 6 (2004) – Mr Baine; Grade 7 (2005) - Mrs Panda and Mr Moses; Grade 8 (2006) – Mr Moses