By VICKY BAUNKE
ILLITERACY affects almost half of the country’s population and is a contributing factor to many of the problems faced in PNG.
According to the 2000 census, more than four million youths in the country are illiterate and unemployed.
When one is left out the education system, that person feels dejected and rejected. There are numerous reasons why students drop out of school apart from the fact that there are some who are slow learners and cannot keep up with the quick learners in class. Some students drop out of school because they cannot afford additional fees or due to peer pressure. Stretim Youth, Stretim PNG Project (SYS), is a voluntary organisation which assists in providing an opportunity for these less fortunate youths in Lae.
Joyce Moya, 27, from Menyamya left school at grade 3 in 2003 following a car accident where she suffered back injuries. Her father passed away soon after that and she couldn’t afford to return to school. Joyce admitted to giving up hope on a better life and started taking drugs.
Despite the years of hanging out with the wrong crowd, she still yearned deep inside to be able to read, write and speak English. For her, this was only a dream. But she then heard about SYS and her wishful thinking came true. Joanes Yoni, 37, from Finschhafen left school because his parents broke up. He stayed away from school for a couple of years and when the opportunity came for him to return to school, he didn’t want to because he was older than his classmates.
Diane Loengon, from Finschhafen left school at grade 8 some years back. She is now widowed with one child. She works at a hotel in Lae.
Her story is different. Her house was destroyed by fire along with all her belongings including school certificates, CVs and other valuable documents that would assist her if she sought employment or further studies. She couldn’t return to school without her certificates.
These stories and many more from about 200 participants in the Stretim Youth, Stretim PNG project in Lae speak the unheard stories and voices of the illiterate population of PNG. Lae Member of Parliament, Loujaya Kouza, has shown support to the program during a visit to the school.
She described the youths as the “faceless number and fatherless youths of the country that only God can bless and hear their cries”. She has donated K100, 000 towards the program.
SYS is managed and funded by Noah Ariku and his wife Damaris under the Exodus Project Management.
It is based at Bumayong along the back road area of Tent City on the outskirts of Lae. It was established in January with over 250 youths participating in its short courses.
The program is carried out in partnership with different church groups, Lae Christian School for Tomorrow, Tropical Gems Foundation and Share and Care Ministry.
Noah Ariku envisages that law and order problems in communities will lessen if everyone in the country is educated up to secondary school level.
“I believe that these four million illiterate youths are a valuable economic asset, if we provide education to them and if we engage them with income earning opportunities.
“Instead of criticizing the government continuously, we should be providing alternatives and solutions to generate national revenue, increase basic service delivery, enhance development and reduce poverty and crime.
Despite learning the basic of reading and writing, many older students are still reluctant to return to school due to their age.
Lae Christian School for Tomorrow will be taking in 20 students next year, along with St Joseph’s and Malahang Technical Centers. The challenge for students is to come up with their school fees.
At SYS, participants are taught three subjects a day, Phonics, Positive thinking and Christian Teachings. Share and Care Ministry pastor, Eric Umbini, teaches the Christian aspect of the courses. Lae Christian School for Tomorrow has a curriculum in biblical teaching and building characters of young people which is a crucial approach to altering the mindsets of students before their venture towards an academic education.
Schoolteacher, Diane Tatip, says it is a big challenge for the teachers to educate grownups who already have set mindsets and whose capacity to learn might be slower compared to younger learners. Despite this, there have been success stories such as that of a 38 year old student returning to primary school.
Tropical Gems Foundation Trainer, Alison Utiam, has been working in the rural areas of Madang where positive thinking is stressed to youths so as to change their mentality of being ostracized or being left out. She says there have been noticeable changes in many young people. SYS is now looking forward to hosting a summit to be held in Lae aimed at to provide education to illiterate youths throughout PNG.
The Stretim Youth, Stretim PNG summit will be held in Lae on December 19-20, and has already got support from the Member for Lae and the Lae District Development Authority.
One of the objectives of the meeting is “to confirm the need and plot the way forward to provide full primary and secondary education for illiterate and semi illiterate youths in the country,” Ariku said.
By VICKY BAUNKE