A school leaver can work the land

Weekender

By THOMAS HUKAHU
LAST week I impressed on you readers the fact that university studies is more challenging than studies at the secondary level.
I gave some tips on how you can avoid failing your courses and consequently continue to succeed in your learning or life in general.
In this week’s article, I wish to encourage those who may not get (or have not got) an offer for tertiary studies, as well as those who have had to suspend their year of studies, to consider working on the land to make a living.
Aim to score best grades
Before I go on to this week’s theme, let me emphasise this: In all your studies, always aim to score the best grades.
Do not be satisfied with just passing. Aim to score the very best grades.
A person writing a good letter of application for a job with an attached transcript sporting very good grades will be shortlisted for an interview and possibly be considered for employment.
Someone with very good grades on his or her transcript will also be considered for an interview for a prestigious scholarship award over someone who merely passed different courses.
Those are two of a number of reasons why a student at university or college must always aim for the best grades.
My Grade 12 mathematics teacher told me more than 30 years ago: “Always aim for the top grades. If you fail to get the top grade, you will get the second top grade – but you are still on top!”

Times are tough
Last week, I was privileged to be in a group of educated professionals where we were told by a lecturer from a university that recently 33,000 Grade 12 students sat for their exams.
However, she said, there were only 5,000 places for those students in tertiary institutions. That means only 5,000 of those students will secure a place in a tertiary institution.
The big question is: Where will the other 28,000 school leavers go?
The lecturer emphasised that times were hard and that we have a real challenge in the nation and that concern will not just go away any time soon.

Working the land
This though is a possible solution to the problem.
If you do not make it to university or college and do not get employed, this is something that you should consider doing. (The same applies to you if you are a dropout from university or a college.)
Try to make a living by working on the land. I mean, try to till the soil and plant something, or go out to sea and fish.
A few months back, I read a very good story of a former university student who went back to his village after completing his studies and planted and harvested cocoa.
Today, he is doing very well with his cocoa business.
The fascinating thing is, while at university, he did not study farming or agriculture – he studied a different field altogether but when he went back to his village, he took care of his family’s cocoa trees and has since been harvesting well.
He told the reporter who wrote his story that he grew up working with cocoa but studied something different while at university. When he got back home, he picked up from where he left off as a teenager. He was just applying the same skills that he learned growing up but now with the head of a university man, hence the results would be better.
The same can be said of people who go back home to farm vanilla (copra or oil palm).
If you are a dropout, you can consider growing vanilla beans. Put in the effort and the fruits of your labour would be evident when you harvest your beans to dry and sell.
I must stress here that work on the land would be tough. It will not be easy. But if you put in the sweat, you will be rewarded.

I planted vegetables in my 20s
I have a personal experience regarding working the land.
As a university science student forced to take a break about 30 years ago, I planted pak choi (Chinese cabbage) for six months when the university suspended a semester due to ongoing student protests.
Instead of seeking part-time employment in town, I dug up an old garden near our small hamlet and planted pak choi. My father later sold those as part of his vegetable business. (If I have nothing worthwhile to do where I am now and were to go back to my village, I already have some ideas as to what I can do because I learned from observing people and relatives around me on how to work the land.)
I must stress that it working on the land is hard work. You cannot just sit back and dream about it. You must be prepared to sweat and toil to see results.
After I dug up the old garden plot, I tilled the soil and mixed it with chicken manure. Then I planted the vegetable.
(The whole exercise required almost no cash. I found a spade, a fork and bush knife at home and used those to clear the plot and dig the soil. Even the nursery I made for the pak choi seedlings was constructed from bits of wood and other stuff that I found around our family home.)
As the plants were growing, I would wake up before 6am and water them and did weeding every day and then watered the plants again at 6pm.
The other important items I needed was a nursery and chicken manure, which I obtained from a cousin’s poultry shed. The rest was hard work and using basic agriculture knowledge that I learned from high school and from growing up in the village where I helped my relative do gardening or harvesting and selling cocoa beans.
In the end, all the pak choi was sold by my father and money was earned. When the new academic year was starting, my father helped pay for my school fees and I continued with university studies.

A highlander tilled the land too
About 15 years ago, I met a young man from Western Highlands who was then a university student at the University of Papua New Guinea.
He (who I will call John) was struggling to survive as a student in that he could not afford the fees to be accommodated at the campus so he slept on the floor of the room occupied by a relative of his on campus.
John told me that to get enough money for his fees and airplane ticket for the next academic year, he would return home in October after semester 2 ended and till the soil on a large plot of land for three months or so to plant sweet potatoes.
He told me he would get help from his relatives and hire a truck to transport the bags of potatoes to Mt Hagen or Lae to sell and make money to help him get back to his studies.
John graduated with a degree in business studies over a decade ago and is now doing his own thing after resigning from an office job.
John’s story informed me of the challenges that many young people face as students or school leavers and the daring decisions they make to achieve their goals – and part of that was to work the land.

Consider farming sea cucumber
If you are a dropout or school leaver and live near the sea, you can consider benefiting from farming or culturing sea cucumber (bech-de-mer), or fishing for mackerel or tuna.
For sea cucumber, the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) will notify you when the ban placed on harvesting the creature would be lifted so people like you can go to harvest them.
I have lived in Kavieng, in New Ireland, for a few years now and have noticed how the harvesting of sea cucumber has impacted the lives of people on the islands in the province.
Some of the islanders get assistance from NFA researchers based in Kavieng where the locals are taught how to culture or best keep their sea cucumber growing in the shallow waters off their beaches.
I was told that at harvesting time last year, one single island managed to sell over K1 million worth of sea cucumber because of their management of the creature growing in their waters.
If you are going fishing for mackerel or tuna, you will need to get fishing lines and bait and may need a boat with an engine as well as fuel and oil to go out to sea.
Those are some expenses that you will need to take care of to fish. Be ready to spend some money to get those things ready before you go out fishing.
When I was living and working in Nauru a decade ago, I accompanied a pastor from Australia and a local out to trawl and we caught a lot of fish. I made a mental calculation on how much we could have earned if we sold all the tuna, rainbow runners and wahoo we caught. It would be about A$1,000.
However, we did not sell the fish we caught, we shared them between us and we kept them to eat or shared them again with our neighbours.
Such an exercise made me realise that someone can earn good money by fishing, as long as there is a good boat and fuel to power the boat.

Use money to improve your life
The challenge of working the land or fishing in the sea is that on certain days or season you can make a lot of money, however you must plan to save some of the money to be used later.
You cannot spend all the money you make – you have to either save it for later use or invest in other ventures that can make some more money for you, as in opening a trade store.
For sea cucumber farmers, they can get a lot of money from harvesting and selling it but they must learn to save or use their money to do some other work until the next time they are given the word to harvest – and that may be six months or even a year later.
I heard a story of a Djaul islander in Kavieng who harvested a good amount of sea cucumber and sold them. He then used the money to purchase a new banana boat and engine.
It is likely that while waiting for the next harvest season, he could be ferrying islanders to and from town and earning some money from being a boat operator. What he earned in harvesting sea cucumber has enabled him to venture into a transport business.
You have to be smart like him and do something similar.
Next week: Inland fishing provides opportunities

  • Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.

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