By Rev Seik Pitoi
MONDAY, July 26, 2021 was a special day for Norman Laka.
Graduating at UPNG with a Bachelor of Business Management degree, majoring in Public Policy Management, the young Rigo man could only reflect back in gratitude at the trying times he went through along his journey. Despite the difficulties he encountered, his faith in God, hard work, loving parents – and an old chainsaw were what got him through to the end!
Norman is the son of Rogo and Marie Laka who are from Gabone and Tauruba villages respectively. The second born among four siblings, Norman began schooling at the Gabone elementary and primary schools until Grade 7.
“I was not a very bright student,” Norman recalled.
“In fact, my elementary teacher said I was dumb and that I wouldn’t progress very far. But they decided anyway to send me to primary school. Then, I began to slowly pick up.”
In Grade 6, Norman came third in the class, his highest achievement at that point. He continued to Grade 8 at Ginigolo/Gunugau School and moved to Iarowari High School for his Grades 9 and 10. Grades 11 and 12 were done at Sogeri National High School. At this stage, Norman had settled into academic gear and was coasting well. His confidence grew, his marks improved and by the year’s end, he was selected for university.
Entering UPNG in 2017 was a dream come true for Norman. He enrolled in the degree programme of his choice. Then, he encountered his first problem – paying the registration fee!
“Dad and I went all over the place looking for money to pay my registration. We had no luck. Right at the last minute, dad decided to see his former school mate, Vera Raga, for help. After sharing our need with him, Uncle Vera assisted us with K3,000 and that got me registered. If not for that help, I would not have commenced studies, and I probably wouldn’t be graduating now,” he said.
But the following year, the problem still remained. They needed to pay off the outstanding fees. This time, rather than asking around again for help, his father resorted to cutting trees and selling timber.
“With our old chainsaw, dad and I spent hours in the forest cutting timber, assisted by my cousins. We sold them at half price in desperation to get enough money quickly. From this, we managed to pay off all my outstanding fees. The old chainsaw continued to help us in 2019.
“Having no other assistance apart from the Government scholarship and help from the Central governor and Rigo MP’s funds, everything else I needed to pay for school came through that old chainsaw,” he said.
That special implement was a tremendous blessing to the aspiring student!
Along the four-year journey, Norman exhibited leadership qualities that made him stand out. As such, he was nominated to lead in a number of student organisations. He was president of Rigo Students Association, president of United Church Students Association, and vice president of Central Students Union. In 2021, he was made patron of Central Students Union.
Norman was looked up to by his peers and he mentored younger students as well. He was also adept in organising events and programmes. As a typical leader, he always managed to get willing hands around him to do the work while he did the planning and called the shots!
A major highlight in Norman’s time at the university was when he was selected to go on the UPNG and Australian National University (ANU) partnership programme. He spent two months in 2020 on attachment in Canberra, Australia. The programme was an eye-opener for him as it enhanced his learning and understanding of certain aspects of his course.
Norman as a Christian
I had the joy of getting to know Norman during my tenure as United Church chaplain from 2018 to 2020. He was a fine young Christian man and was an active member of our little fellowship group. I always valued his contributions at our church.
In 2019, he was elected president of our student association and was an excellent leader at that. While he was in demand in his other roles, he always made time to come for fellowship when he wasn’t tied down with studies.
On one occasion, he brought his entire Rigo students association members and some parents to camp in our church yard to prepare for a cultural programme the next day. We began with a time of fellowship and I shared an encouragement from the word of God. Then, they began their rehearsals for the Central Day celebrations. They danced the Kitoro, Motu Mavaru and other Rigo dances into the night, all dressed in traditional attire and under their parents’ direction and coaching! The students moved to the Rita Flyn Courts the next day for the programme which was a great success, thanks to Norman’s leadership.
Apart from acknowledging the blessings of the Lord, Norman dedicated his degree to his parents whose hard work saw him complete his studies.
“This degree is dedicated to them, plus to my extended family, all my friends, and to all those who played a part in my educational journey. I am indebted to them,” he said. “I also know I couldn’t have made it without God. I prayed much, even to get a key to my room! I had faith in God that I would complete my studies successfully.”
Norman attributed his success to his parents’ faith “in the Lord Jesus which is my stepping stone and strength!”
Norman was grateful for all the difficulties he encountered because he feels those are what has makes him a stronger person today.
Times are getting tough in our country and many students will struggle financially when trying to pursue their studies. But Norman is positive that there will always be a way out.
“I want young students out there to persevere,” he said. “Don’t give up too easily. Trust God to help you find a way.”
He also added: “Life is all about choices so make the right choices and be committed to it. Work hard because dreams are nothing without hard work. Trust God, hold on to your dreams and one day, you too will achieve your goals.”
For a young lad who was written off in his early school years as being ‘dumb’, walking off the stage in July with his degree in hand was sweet victory and an achievement in itself. With that kind of passion and drive, Norman Laka is certainly destined for greater things in life!
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.