By MALUM NALU
IN March this year, a glimmer of hope sprouted from the swamps of Tari, Hela, to give a new lease of life to its young men and women.
The K30 million Hope Institute, a project of Tari-Pori MP and Finance Minister James Marape and funded by district funds over the last three years, came alive with hundreds of visitors to witness the signing of agreements with the University of PNG and Department of Education.
Then Higher Education Minister Francis Marus witnessed the signing of the agreement between Marape and then UPNG Vice-Chancellor Prof Albert Mellam.
The institute also signed an agreement with Susu Mamas to provide health care support to Hela mothers, while another agreement was signed between National Agriculture Research Institute and the Hela United Church to bring about agriculture development.
The partnership with UPNG will ensure arts, science and accounting are taught at the institute with options for tourism, computing and other courses relevant to cottage industries in Hela.
UPNG will also run its matriculation programme at the institute to prepare school leavers for colleges and tertiary education.
The occasion also saw the presentation of the registration certificate of Hope Institute as a registered Flexible Open Distance Education (FODE) centre.
Secretary for Education Dr Uke Kombra, when presenting the certificate, acknowledged Marape as the champion of FODE and Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) when he was the Education Minister from 2008 to 2011.
Tari-Pori children and youths in their green uniforms turned up in numbers to witness the signing ceremonies that would usher in a brighter future for them.
Marape said his vision had become reality with lecturers and course programmes now in place, 20 lecture halls, an administration building, library, modern accommodation facilities for 380 staff and students, mess for 800 people, and kitchen.
Earlier this month, I revisited the institution, and was amazed at the transformation that had taken place.
A Fijian chief executive officer, four Indian teachers one of whom is a woman, and a handful of national teachers have run the institution since its launching.
Fijian CEO Henry Rabuku, a lawyer and former soldier, says 5000 people had expressed interest in attending classes this year with 600 starting.
“We had 500 students with another 100 for adult literacy,” he tells me.
“We will have classes from Grade 7 to Grade 12.
“Those who cannot make it under the education programme through FODE will go on to the TVET programme.
“Grade 12 students will be channelled through to the UPNG programme or on to other institutions.
“We are now starting to get Grade 7 through to Grade 12 students into the classrooms.
“Next year we are expecting the enrolment to go up to 2000.”
Rabuku says people who had missed out on education for the last 20 years, due to the ongoing law-and-order situation, were lining up to enrol.
“Because of this, from May until December, we were running basic English classes just to get them back into the classroom,” he says.
Marape is adamant that the institute will live up to its name and be a beacon of hope for Tari-Pori and Hela.
“The interesting stream we have is adult literacy,” he tells me.
“Two weeks ago, I visited a class, and was fascinated to see young adults who did not speak English at all, speaking English.
“Many of the problems here in the valley are because of people not educated in the modern education system, and are not spiritually grounded also.
“We have four compulsory programmes at the Hope Institute.
“Students must go through the learning modules we have for them, cultural teachings, Christian teachings, and must all be computer-conversant.
“The programme is also about character building.
“We will not just give them a certificate from our school.
“They must also learn to be good citizens.
“That will emanate from the cultural courses we run, as well as Christian courses.”
Marape says it is a big investment by Tari-Pori geared towards rehabilitating young citizens of the district to make them better through education.
“We are hopeful that we will give them skills for life,” he says.
“The programmes we run are with the view that law-and-order doesn’t have an overnight solution.
“Law-and-order is a mindset thing.
“Here it involves the cleansing of the mindset of an entire generation.
“Lack of modern education, lack of cultural education, lack of Christian education have created what we have today. Hope Institute is a starting point for Tari-Pori district to bring in all our young men and women, cleanse them, purify them, motivate them, and lead them towards a path of success.
“Everyone must subscribe to good behaviour.
“There will be no engagement in criminal activities or tribal conflicts.
“Next year will be the starting point to create missionaries of peace in our valley.
“I see it as a rehabilitation centre for my district to help those who have been left behind.
“Since 2013, I’ve spent about 50 per cent of my time, just to get this place up and running.
“We have four Indian teachers and we’re still in the process of recruiting more teachers.”
It’s not all bad news in Tari-Pori.
The institute is indeed shining a light on the people of Tari-Pori, after many years in the darkness, and giving them a hope for the future.
By MALUM NALU