Story by Mandy Glass.
MAF in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a well-established relationship with the Oksapmin Secondary School at Tekin. This school has been operating for 13 years. Its students regularly achieve top marks and are some of the smartest in the whole country. For years, before Oksapmin Secondary School was set up, the students graduating from primary schools in the area had to leave their remote valley for towns like Wewak, Aitape, Vanimo or Telefomin to attend a high school.
Growing up so remotely and then leaving home at a fairly young age, either for boarding school or to stay with relatives for the whole school year, and with minimal means of communication, the young students often struggled. Also, sending these children away meant that school fees and other logistics were major challenges for the families in the Oksapmin Valley. Therefore, they petitioned for the establishment of a high school in their valley, so their children could finish at least grade 9 and 10 and also grow more mature before flying out to the “big cities” to complete grade 11 and 12.
A School only Accessible by Air Transport
One of the things that made the establishment of the Oksapmin High School at Tekin possible was MAF’s service and commitment. Our planes flew and still fly endless loads of building material, food and school supplies into Tekin, including exam papers and teachers. The only transport in and out of Tekin is by air. For the students to access further education and to finish high school, they depend on MAF to fly them to other major towns in the province and beyond. This concept of the school pays off. The students not only gain knowledge but become young men and women who are able to give back to their community and their country!
In 2014, I was privileged to attend their graduation ceremony and firmly remember the head boy of the school saying this to the teachers in his speech: “The most important thing you have done for us is not just learning, but we have been taught how to be good men and women in the future. We have been given advice and correction for the wrong things we did, and we have turned away from them. Now all our bad behaviour has changed, and we have been moulded and shaped to become somebody special in the future. You became like our parents at home giving advice, caring and correcting us. We thank you very much.”
Miss Glenda, the founder of the school, is still faithfully teaching at the school. The school’s enrolment has expanded to almost 300 students and 15 teachers in 2020, teaching grades 9, 10 and, for the very first time, a small class of grade 11, with 15 boys and 9 girls. Developing grades 11 and 12 means that the school is now called Oksapmin Secondary School.
Covid-19’s Impact on the School
Air travel in and out of Tekin has been challenging during these past few months because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions enforced by the Papua New Guinea government to protect its people. Schools were suspended too.
The news travelled quickly to Tekin. On 24th March, Glenda wrote on social media: “'Home is the best place' to be. This is something that my niece posted on Facebook and it’s true here in PNG also. The Prime Minister closed all the schools in PNG yesterday, so all our students are now home. We are very closely packed in at our school so our students will be much safer in their scattered homes. Due to aviation restrictions, we don't expect any flights into our airstrip for the next month. We have good gardens and a good-hearted community so we should be fine."
A few days later, Glenda wrote: “The sky is strangely silent.
School resumed again in early May, starting off with a community meeting on 4th May on the school’s soccer field to communicate. We explained the 'new normal' and have now brought the students in. Parents were attentive, concerned and supportive of the move. Lessons are scheduled for tomorrow. Sad news was that one of our grade ten student boys died from an infection in his leg at home during the suspension period. Hand wash stations were in action as everyone came in.”
Some students therefore mentioned consequences of Covid-19 in a dialogue exercise when asked to write who they thought might be coming or going on an MAF plane: people stranded for five solid weeks for Covid-19 at Tabubil; people who are afraid of Covid-19 and want to come home; awareness teams who have been stranded due to lock down; people bringing important messages about Covid-19.
Here’s a short list that the students wrote of some of the things that the MAF plane may bring: medicines for the hospitals and health centres, text books, ink, groceries, materials and tools for the new secondary school, sending out things for relatives far away, electronic goods, injections like penicillin, needs and wants for public servants who help our people, cartons of tinned fish, chairs for the school, ideas, things that people from far away countries who have visited us send to us, stationery, clothes that we wear and things to keep us clean, exercise books, rulers, pencils, spades, bush knives, computers, water tanks, bags of rice, Bilum books for Oksapmin Secondary School, disaster food when we have floods, sago, bananas, taros and some greens, dogs and pigs for the village, Bibles, dictionaries, furniture, coffins for people who have died, peoples‘ bags of belongings, boom boxes, bags of second-hand clothes, school mess rations, our exam papers, taking out many vegetables for people to have a good diet in the towns.
We are so grateful for partnerships, like the one we have with Miss Glenda and the Okasapmin Secondary School, that help us reach people in remote communities in Papua New Guinea!