By Rev SEIK PITOI
WHEN a person knows that he stands no chance against those who are better than him, what should he do?
Should he give up? Sadly, that is the case for many who feel inferior and not as good as others.
But thankfully, some people don’t buy into that lie. They are determined to change things around.
George Kilamelona was in his mid-teens and livingin his village, Hula. He was born at Lawes College where his father, Kilamelona Vali was being trained as a pastor.
When the family returned to Hula, George attended the village community school.
One thing that fascinated George was how the older village boys would speak in English.
These young men were students at Sogeri, then the college to be for the educated elite.
One time, when they came home for holidays, he overheard them conversing with the local missionary, Rev Short, in English. He recalled: “I listened quietly and said to myself – ‘if these boys can speak in English, so can I’”.
The trouble for George, though, was that he hadn’t done well in community school. “I wasn’t the brightest student in my class. I could write a few words but I had trouble making complete sentences.
I knew other boys who had done better than me, but I think I was more determined than they were to go to Sogeri”.
The next day, he went to see Rev Short to see if it was possible for him to go to school at Sogeri. Rev Short asked him to write a letter expressing his desire.
“He really caught me there”, recalled George. “I struggled to write the letter, but I managed to do a short note and took it to him.
He read it, made some amendments and asked me to rewrite it.
I did and was so happy I went to my friend, Noka Kopi, and told him to do the same. He did, and soon, we were both on our way to Port Moresby to deliver our letters.”
Rev Sharp’s cover letter did the trick and in no time, both boys were up at Sogeri.
Being at the very place he had always desired to be was quite overwhelming for George.
He knew in his heart there were better boys out there but by some act of divine grace, and by sheer determination, he was here instead of them. He made sure he would work hard to make the most of it.
Arriving there, they were met by prominent local teacher, Kamona Walo, who warned them not to rest on their laurels but to work hard as they could be sent home if they didn’t improve.
“Mr Walo also told us we would have a test. Looking back, I realise it was a standard 2 level test but in those days it was like a degree exam.
We were really nervous!” Because of his positive attitude and determination, George passed the test and moved on.
His friend Noka, the smarter of the two, had to sit for a second test!
With his friend Noka now in another class, George found yet another good friend to be with.
This time, it was Alu Gima, who too was quite a smart student.
“Alu helped me a lot in those days at school,” he recalled.”
Both boys were students in Paulus Arek’s class.
George did very well in school and also on the playing field where he was an avid soccer and Aussie rules player.
The students at Sogeri were from all over PNG.
They were the cream of the crop, and were always challenged to do their best.
There was no space for slackness or laziness.
Principal Norman Fell made sure that students obeyed school rules and that discipline was in place.
As they furthered their education, they were also groomed to be teachers in the future.
One thing they enjoyed doing was having debates in their dorms. “I used to go with my friend, Sere Pitoi, and take part in debates. We’d argue our points strongly and then get back to our beds.
Debating was good as it helped us practice our English.”
The whole course would last five years with some time set aside for practical teaching.
Students were sent out to different locations to teach. George was sent to Gabagaba Village.
There he met a distant relative from Hula who had left home many years ago, got remarried to a Gabagaba woman, and began a family.
As he got to know the family of his relative, Leva Airupana, George realised that Leva’s daughter was scheduled to go to nursing school at Saiho, Popondetta, but didn’t have a suitcase to put her few belongings in.
George emptied out his suitcase and presented it to his distant cousin.
She took it and went, completed her course, returned and served as a nurse.
But the kindness shown by George stayed with this young woman.
She eventually married George’s debating partner and had a family.
The suitcase was kept as a treasured souvenir by the family. Over the years, she told all her children, which includes this writer, the story of that special suitcase!
In 1956, George graduated as a teacher Grade 2. His first posting was to Daru.
In all of Daru town then, there were no trucks, only one tractor.
When you shopped at the Government store, you had to carry your stuff home yourself. It was quite a tough life.
But teaching was good. And it was made better because there was a young Daru lass who was also a teacher at the same school.
Miniehaha Imabi was the daughter of an LMS pastor, and she had taken his fancy. Soon, they became friends, got married and began to raise a family while continuing to teach at the school.
After 13 years in Daru, George got posted to the Milne Bay, firstly at Wagawaga village, and then to the Mapamoiwa government school. His future postings included Gabagab in Rabaul, East New Britain, and to Minj, in Jiwaka.
During that time, however, he also attended training courses, both overseas and locally.
Apart from others, one special course was in 1963 at the administrative college.
This course was an in-service advance training course for senior teachers and ran for six months.
George was one of 15 teachers who studied methods of teaching, school management and organisation, district education management, school inspections and assessment of schools. The names of those who attended with him were Alkan Tololo, Konda Aisoli, Aisea Taviai, Johnson Amo, Tau Boga, Abana Gara, Ronald ToVue, Paulias Tonguna, Weka Forova, and Eki Vagi.
George’s elevation up the ranks of teaching showed his dedication and hard work. T
o have his name side by side with the “who’s who” of this nation proves that nothing is impossible for one who is determined, regardless of how he has fared earlier in life.
With a record of dedication and commitment, George was again pulled aside to be specifically trained for a new position. In 1973, he left teaching and began to understudy the role of the land board chairman.
He was appointed shortly thereafter to become the first Papua New Guinean land board chairman, holding that position for 19 years until his retirement in 1992.
Being children of clergy, George and his wife served God faithfully wherever they were. In Port Moresby, they began to worship at the Koki United Church, then at Kaugere.
However, they soon made Boroko United Church their home (later to be Rev Sione Kami Memorial Church).
They served for many years as elders in that congregation until they stood down due to failing health.
On April 2, 2018, George lost his life-long companion and soul mate, Minnie Kilamelona.
As we wound up our discussion, George brushed aside a tear as he remembered his late wife.
His final encouragements were: to men – “love and respect your wives as you serve God together;” and to those who feel they are not as good as others – “never give up, never look down on yourself, be dedicated, and with God’s help and your determination, you can do it!”
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer