By VINCENT KUMURA
WHEN talking about unwavering passion and sheer determination, there are few who really do it like this man.
William Bongre is 53 years old and comes from Pokodame village of Gembogl, Chimbu. After completing Grade 10 at Mt Wilhelm High School in 1988, he left to pursue a year of masonry training at Arawa Technical College in what was formerly North Solomons (now the Autonomous Region of Bougainville).
His was trained in building concrete blocks, block laying, brick-making and brick laying, tiling, plastering and stone pitching, stone paving and planning building foundations; a specialisation that was quite rare at the time making him a pioneer in Chimbu.
After Arawa, he returned home and taught students these masonry skills at the Don Bosco Kundiawa and Maina (near Mt Wilhelm) technical schools.
While at Maina Tech, he noticed that many primary and high school dropouts were wandering around idly, taking drugs and consuming home brewed alcohol (paia wara) and causing a lot of nuisance and violence. This really bothered him, but for dropouts, not many options are available through the formal education system.
Realising this loophole in the formal education system, he quit teaching in 2010 and started his own school called the Dudua School of Experience in Pokodame, Gembogl targeting these underprivileged and illiterate youths who do not have the required qualifications for secondary, technical and college training. His vision is to help eradicate violence and make our communities better places to live in through providing a specific practical life skill training for these wandering youths.
“I do not want to see our young able men and women going around doing nothing and taking drugs and “steam” and causing violence in our communities. We need to kill this,” Bongre said.
And yes, he is killing the cycle of violence through his school by providing a better option for the youths.
The masonry trainings he accorded his students result in producing a very specific and relevant skill set that can really change a person’s life if put into good use. The best thing about this is that the training does not require a primary or high school certificate. This created a demand for his training that over the years, students flooded in from as far as Hela, Western Highlands, Jiwaka, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Madang, Eastern Highlands, Enga and all over Chimbu. Some were being sent by their Members of Parliament to undertake such specialised masonry training to develop and enhance the face of their own districts and provinces.
The Dudua School of Experience is undoubtedly a very noble initiative that really targets a very specific niche area of practical education. Bongre gives his students theory in school, but takes them out to construction sites for practical assessments. Classes and training are held for only six months and students graduate around October or November of each year.
What is most admirable about Bongre is that he consistently does this with an unwavering spirit even with little to no government recognition or support. Since 2011, the school graduated over 600 students from all over PNG already now making a mark in their own areas. He currently has 82 students enrolled at his school for the 2019 school year of which four are female.
To run his school, he only charges his students K50 for admin costs. When asked why, he calmly responded, “The actual school fee would be around K2,500 per student to undertake his six months training programme, but currently we do not have all the necessary facilities of an institution such as dormitories, dining hall, ablution blocks, and a workshop for our students. Most are day students, hence, we could not charge them tuition and boarding fees.”
As I looked into the flaring eyes of this middle-aged man, I saw a someone with a great vision and a big heart for his community, but I wonder how he would be able to sustain his noble initiative in the long run if the local, provincial and national government and education authorities ignore such ground breaking educational ingenuity.
At present, Mathew Gegua, the provincial education advisor in Chimbu has recognised Bongre’s special skills set and unique contribution to building a better community by putting him on the payroll. In addition, he awarded a project to his school to construct the provincial education office car park, the gate and fencing, which is a great opportunity for Bongre’s students to showcase their training for practical assessments and also, to help sustain the operations of the school. Bongre, a humble man, is very grateful for Gegua’s timely recognition and strategic support.
Bongre’s mastery of masonry skills are highly revered in Chimbu. His students are among the best in the business and some are currently working for big construction companies all around PNG. Some even started their own building companies and small businesses. The masonry touches on the iconic Kora Foundation building in Mirane, Chimbu, the new Kapal Haus in Mt Hagen and the Japanese Embassy in Port Moresby are some of the notable works of his former students.
On Sunday, March 31, while on my way to attend the Bundi Komba Festival, Bongre invited me to give a talk to his students to motivate and inspire them. As they sat attentively on long planks and boulders under their makeshift canvass-roof house by the side of the Gowe-Kuakle River (head of Wara Simbu), I sensed an environment of hope and desperation for a better life swirling all around me.
At the end of the presentation, I thanked Bongre for his ingenuity in creating such educational institution, which provides a better future for our younger generation and help shapes the narration on violence in PNG.
Going forward, Bongre’s vision is to see the erection of a 50-bed boys’ dormitory, a 15-bed girls’ dormitory, a kitchen and dining hall, ablution blocks, and a workshop.
“For training, having a workshop is compulsory for such a technical institution,” remarked Bongre.
“We also hope to have better training equipment and proper tools including consumable materials such as dehydrated lime and cement bags to train our students with. And here is not just about teaching these kids a very specialised skill set, but also some fundamental values in life such as hard work, persistence, discipline and appreciation for life.
“We do not have proper tools to lift huge rocks, but we improvised with what we have so this helps my students to think outside the box when dealing with problems they will be facing in life ahead,” added Bongre with a tone of subtle confidence.
“Every morning, we commune together for a brief devotion before we begin our classes, and this also teaches the students to fear God and respect one another,” continued Bongre.
This model school really does an amazing job of curbing violence and reducing poverty by consistently equipping hundreds of poor and underprivileged youths with a distinct and highly demanded specific skill set coupled with certain fundamental values that can truly enhance their lives and the face of their communities around PNG.
The Dudua School of Experience is the only such school in Chimbu. Perhaps, I am beginning to understand why Bongre is highly committed to realising his dream for this school.
As I bid him farewell and stepped out of his gate, I paused for a while thinking, what do others, including the management of other registered and established schools of Mt Wilhelm, think of him when they see him conducting classes in open air next to the river while his students sat on boulders listening attentively. Maybe some are thinking he is getting nowhere, but I see something very different of this man.
His steel determination against all odds reminds me of Earl Nightingale’s words: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”
It started simply from nothing, but as time passes, more lives from far and near were being impacted and shaped by Bongre’s vision.
William Bongre is not just another ordinary man. He is an inventive visionary individual with a great heart and spirit for our younger generation.
This simple man from Gembogl, Chimbu is indeed an education champion in PNG – an honourable man who has created a remarkable niche training institution that has taught hundreds of wandering youths a specific life changing skill set that could really transform their lives.
At almost 3,000 meters above sea level, the cool misty clouds of Mondia Pass engulfed swiftly onto my path. And as I was hiking along to Snow Pass, Bundi, his story continued to stir my heart.
Like Bongre, we must all bloom where we are planted.
• Vincent Kumura is the director of Kumura Foundation Inc, a small CBO in Bundi, Madang. He is the 2016 Digicel PNG Foundation Men of Honour Community Ingenuity Awardee currently based at Snow Pass, Bundi.