By JOSEPH KAU
IN January of 1975 a young woman from Uritai village in Gulf started a love affair with teaching. She had just graduated from GaulimTeachers College, a few months before the PNG gained its Independence from Australia.
Some Australians were still around to oversee the transition while others had departed for fear of possible trouble.
Never, in her wildest dreams, had she envisioned the affair would last 41 years. And 38 of those years were spent at the same school, Ilakaraeta Primary School in Kerema.
This is the story of Ruth Sireh.
On Thursday Dec 7,she put down the chalk, walked out of her classroom and locked the door to her classroom for the final time, handing over the keys to the Head TeacherPaul Hora, fully satisfied with her contribution.
Raised with six other siblings to missionary parents, Sireh chose a career path which at that time was in great demand in a young country.
“I have no regrets. I made the right choice and I am leaving with satisfaction that I have made my contribution to the development of my people through education.”
Over these 40-plus years, hundreds of students have passed through her classrooms, many of whom now hold senior positions in the public sector and private sector.
She had every reason to beam with pride when she handed the key over to the headmaster at Ilakaraeta, asHora was not a newcomer to her,she had taught him when he did his grades 1 to 6 at Ilakaraeta.
She remains insistent that education is the key to development in the country.
Having grown up during the pre independence days and having lived through the infancy of the country, one thing that sticks out and saddens her deeply is seeing today’s young people abandoning respect and discipline. They view education as unimportant.
“I see school children (both primary and high school) going late to classes and on the way, chewing betelnut and smoking.
On the weekends, its homebrew and other alcoholic drinks.
We see increasing numbers of school girls falling pregnant and these all saddens me.”
Parents, teachers and the government, she says, need to come together to finds ways to bring back discipline, respect and dignity to the classroom.
Outside the classroom, Sireh has been an advocate for teacher’s rights and was elected to the PNG Teachers Association (PNGTA) executive in 1981. She is a member of the provincial education board and advices
on teacher’s appointments and inspection. She also represented professional women on the Gulf Provincial Council of Women and was a member of the Gulf Physical Planning Board.
She also keeps herself busy these days by spending time mentoring young women in sports.
A keen sportswoman herself in her younger years, she was the president of the Kerema Junior Netball Association up until recently. In her younger days she was a keen, netball, basketball, softball and soccer player.
Sireh was born Ruth Posa to missionary parents at Tapala. She attended primary school at Koaru Mission station and completed grade 10 at Kerema High School in 1972. Her desire to become a teacher materialized when she successfully graduated as a teacher in East New Britain in 1974.
Her first posting was to Lalavaipiprimary school in 1975.
After two years, she was posted to Uamai primary school and three years later was transferred to Vailala East Primary school.
It was at Vailala East that she met, fell in love with, and married Paul Sireh, a young kiap from Manus who was stationed at Ihu.
They moved to Kerema in 1979 and have been there ever since as public servants. Three years ago, her husband passed away.Losing him was, and still is one of her biggest regrets.
The couple has three children, a daughter and two sons. One son has followed his father’s footsteps and is currently the administrator of the Kerema Urban Local Level Government, while the other two are, naturally, teachers.
For a woman who has dedicated her entire working life to teaching, the Teaching Services Commission (TSC) has recognized her efforts with a long service award in 2008.
The Gulf Provincial Government has also given her an award for 25 years of service to the people of the province.
l I know that my services to teaching far outweighs any recognition that might be given by the queen or the government.
Award or no award, I am rewarded far more for my services to our country when I see young men and women whom I have taught, excel in life.”
- Joseph Kau is a freelance writer.