PORT MORESBY - It was a great relief when Susan Wangjil finally graduated with a science degree after 34 years of continuous education.
Susan is from Alkena village in the Tambul District of the Western Highlands Province and she graduated as a Bachelor of Science, majoring in biology, from the University of Papua New Guinea on 26 April.
She had started Grade 1 at Alkena Lutheran Community school back in 1986, and in 1995 completed Grade 10 at Tambul High School. But she did not receive an offer to progress to the next level of education.
Susan had no choice but to return to her family where she stayed for a year and said to herself that completing Grade 10 should not be the end of her education.
So, in 1997, she decided to enrol at the Mount Hagen College of Distance Education to improve her Grade 10 marks. The following year, she was accepted into Nazarene School of Nursing at Kudjip in Jiwaka Province.
But, in her second year, she encountered serious family issues which forced her to abort her studies and return home to her family.
She then felt she had no hope. Her choice was to marry and start her own family. So, in 2003, she married James, a fine young man. Together they started a small bus business. At its peak, they owned three buses and everything was going well for them.
However, Susan began encountering difficulties in her marriage. It started when James was not transparent about the management of revenues from the bus business.
“James did not look after me and the two little kids properly. He ignored us and I noticed he had made up his mind to marry again,” Susan said.
“I knew nobody would look after me and my two little children so I started making crazy plans about how I would sustain myself and the kids. I had no choice in that terrible situation. I firmly believed that my only way to live a better life in the future would be through education alone”.
So Susan decided to enrol herself at the University of Papua New Guinea’s Mt Hagen Open College where she successfully completed Grades 11 and 12. But she struggled financially to take care of her education, herself and the two children.
“Being a mother and student at the same time was not easy. My second born son disturbed my studies. I couldn’t concentrate on my assignments when he cried. I would breastfeed him and take him around just to calm him down while reading text books and handouts.”
In order to sustain herself and her children, she started selling doughnuts at the market. She would wake up at two o’clock every morning and bake doughnuts. While baking she would pray, read the Bible and study. Around six o’clock, she would sell the doughnuts before going to classes.
Susan carefully managed the proceeds from doughnut sales. She set aside the principal to buy new stock and with the profit bought course books and other things necessary for her studies.
James was not willing to support her education and she fended for herself with the little income she managed to receive from doughnut sales. Luckily, her elder brother helped by providing accommodation and food, which made life easier.
Despite the problems she faced, Susan was determined to pursue her education. “I prayed hard and had great faith that one fine day my dreams would come to fruition.”
God heard her prayers and honoured her faith. By 2010 she had successfully completed her Grade 11 and 12 courses.
Susan then applied to many universities around the country. Her first choice was UPNG, where she was accepted to study foundation science at the UPNG Open College in Port Moresby.
While studying, God made a way for her and she joined the Business and Professional Women’s Association. BPWA helped her with K1 thousand each year of her studies.
Her brother was another major supporter and he sponsored her during her time at UPNG.
“Being an unemployed mother and student at the same time was very hard for me. God’s grace has made my life easier and possible during those difficult times. All I can say is 'Thank you God'.”
Susan completed the courses at the Open College in 2015, she applied to study medicine but was not able to score the required GPA. However, she was accepted to study Biology.
In her second year, she was excluded from studies for one semester but reapplied in 2016 and was able to graduate with degree in Biology in April.
All the struggles, pain and difficulties had not restrained her. At last, she had graduated. “By the time I saw my name on the graduation list, the burden I had been carrying for a lifetime lifted and I was relieved and exited.”
Susan now encourages others never to give up when they see challenges and difficulties ahead of them.
“If you see that nobody is willing and able to support your education, never lose hope,” she said.
“God has blessed us in many ways. Consider fending for yourself in some other little ways. For myself, I sold doughnuts at the market every morning in order to support my education.”
Ivan Doa is a third year journalism student at the University of Papua New Guinea