By TOMMY MAIMA
IT’s not easy living in the city where social problems seem to be magnified. Unemployment, poverty and crime are all around you.
So you want to help – but where do you start?
Or, maybe, how do you start? For our story, we go to Port Moresby’s 8-Mile settlement, seven kilometres east of Jackson Airport.
This peri-urban settlement is plagued by problems found in any sizeable city – violence, prostitution, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and public disorder. Many children miss school because of poverty.
In the middle of this world of chaos lives 32-year old Demlyn Dama whose parents moved to the settlement in the early 1980s and stayed.
Dama’s father has since died, but he was a devout Christian, a soldier of Christ who liked to help others. For Dama, that was the inspiration she needed, and although she was a busy woman – married with two children – she was determined to do something to spread the gospel and help people, especially children.
In 2011, she set out to establish an early learning centre and Bible playschool. Being unemployed and armed only with grade 10 level education did not discourage her.
After attending a training programme facilitated by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church on early childhood learning, she started teaching children at her local church. But her dream to do more and include children outside the church was growing.
In 2012, Dama started classes for children aged between six and10 years. There was no room for them at the setlement, so they went under a mango tree near her home. Even without resources such as books, pencils or paper to draw on, the children were happy to be there.
“I started teaching fewer than 10 children at the start with no support at all. We found pieces of paper, cardboard and other trash and turned those into learning kits,” said Dama.
“At first parents and caregivers agreed to pay 50 toea weekly for me to buy school materials.
“Although this was not sufficient to pay for the stationaries, it was a start and I was grateful.”
Each year the number of children increased. Obviously, classes had to stop when it rained, but when the sun came out the children returned to the mango tree.
This continued until 2014 when World Vision’s PNG Education Project, funded by the Australian government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Programme and supported by World Vision Australia launched a programme to help schools in need.
Focusing on targeted settlements in Port Moresby, Dama’s Bible playschool was among the first learning centres to get help under the programme.
Libraries were built and a curriculum based on functional literacy and basic maths started.
In 2015, Dama was among volunteers from the project’s eight target communities enroled at an early childhood education training programme with the PNG International Education Agency, a private organisation. She and 21 others will graduate next month with a level 3 certificate in early childhood care and education.
The project has helped Dama’s Bible playschool erect a water tank and buy learning kits. A two-room permanent classroom is now being built from materials bought by donors to cater for two different groups of children – older and younger.
Dama has also engaged another teacher who is now being trained to support her.
“I’m grateful for the support in ensuring these children in the community have a place to learn to read and write. We now have a place to sit under when it rains,” said Dama.
Through the four-year PNG Education Project, community learning centres at 8-Mile, Mt Moria, ATS, New Erima Primary School and Segani. Three are supported by trained teachers.
A project evaluation report showed a rise in the number of three to five-year-olds – especially – attending childhood care and development classes and able to handle a book, read left to right, and recognise letters and words.
There has also been an increase, particularly among boys, in the percentage of children aged 6-7 years and older still attending classes at learning centres or elementary prep, and are ready to progress to elementary grade 1, with 89.8 per cent achieving the ‘ready for school’ standard.
The number of children who progressed to formal education and elementary school during the projects’ duration was 544.
Overall, the project has supported 54 communities in Port Moresby, Madang and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville to establish and maintain their own learning centres, which have been coordinated and run by 108 volunteer teachers and 52 education management committees.
By TOMMY MAIMA