By MICHELLE JEREWAI
TO people who have never been to the Highlands, Wabag may seem like a very distant place from the more popular Mt Hagen town. However, it is only a three-hour drive or about 140km from the Western Highlands capital.
I had my first opportunity to travel to the highlands with the Minister for Communication and Information and South Bougainville MP Timothy Masiu with his first secretary Chris Mora and the department’s deputy secretary Flierl Shongol. It was on an invitation by Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas to attend the fourth graduation of the Enga College of Nursing.
We were welcomed at Kagamuga Airport in heavy rain. First time in Mt Hagen, first time in the highlands; I never expected the place to be that cold.
We spent a night at the Highlander Hotel, which could be described as one of the best in the Coral Sea Hotels chain in the country. We were welcomed by the security guard who sanitised our hands and took our temperature as an exercise directed by the Government during the period of the Covid-19 lockdown.
When I walked into my room in the Orchid Wing of the hotel, I still felt very cold and the first thing that crossed my mind was to look for the air conditioning remote to switch it off.
I later realised that my room did not have an air conditioning just like all the rooms, something I shared and we all loved about over a delicious hot dinner later.
After breakfast the next morning, we checked out and were all set for the road trip to Enga. It was a bumpy ride from Mt Hagen as the upgrading of the road into a four-lane highway (from the Kagamuga turn-off to Togoba junction)is still underway.
As we were driving up towards the beautiful mountains, I was so amazed with the view. The mountains were green behind the white fog and blue sky and you could see several waterfalls and clear rivers flowing down mountains to meet the main Lai and Lagaip Rivers that link to the Sepik River.
We arrived in Wabag town, a nice neat and cold place with markets of fresh fruits and other items were line along the roadside. We drove into the governor’s home at Maliyam, which is a beautiful and quiet place. It has a lodge with 17 rooms, a nice small restaurant and a bar. The rooms are very spacious, neat and comfortable. We were put into the rooms at the foot of the mountain and you could really feel the cold in the night and all day long.
After checking into the lodge, the National Brodcasting Corporation (NBC) reporter Mark Kaiyok and I accompanied Minister Masiu to visit his old house in Wabag where he started work as a broadcaster 34 years ago.
“This place brings back a lot of memories. I can’t believe I’m actually standing in front of my house of three decades ago,” Masiu said.
The visit was a surprise to the NBC officers on duty. While he was still standing in front of his old house, the NBC Wabag Manager Leslie Kili walked up to meet him and then we all walked back down to the studio.
It was a very emotional moment as Masiu broke down in tears remembering all those he had worked with and some who have passed on and to see how old the place was. The office was so quiet and all run down just like all NBC studios around PNG. He was so emotional seeing his old desk which had never been moved but is still at the same location many, many years later.
Masiu paid tribute to all those who have worked there during his time and contributed one way or another to support his family when they were in Wabag from 1984 to 1985.To bring back NBC to where it was
“I am overwhelmed to be back in Wabag after so many years and I have seen that the place has changed so much. Just by visiting this office and hearing concerns raised, I know that there are lots to be done. I have appreciated working as a broadcaster to where I am now as the minister responsible for communication and information and I want us to work closely with all our provincial governments to make sure we bring back NBC to where it was.
“I want education programmes, health awareness and agriculture talks as well as other information at the district level to reach as many people in all rural areas of PNG. We have to bring back the short wave so that information dissemination is effective and beneficial to our people,” said Masiu.
The staff of the NBC Wabag were so happy to hear the minister, not knowing that once worked there when he was so young. They really appreciated his visit and welcomed him “back home “after so many years.
The next morning was Wednesday, April 29 and the event that we were invited to was happening, the graduation of the Enga College of Nursing.
Before attending the graduation, we drove to the newly built Enga provincial hospital.
Sir Peter said the first phase of the hospital cost US$159 million (K527 million), 85 per cent of which is a loan from the Exim Bank of China and the National and provincial governments contributed the balance.
The new hospital is just five minutes’ drive from the town, next to the oval and Enga Teachers College. The hospital will have wards, outpatients, specialist doctors, a recreational area, a shop, 42 apartments for doctors, nurses and other health workers including students who are on practical.
After visiting the hospital, we drove up a steep hill that leads us to another beautiful area right in between the mountains to the Enga Teachers College.
As Masiu and Ipatas walked in to the school to meet the pioneer principal Michael Homingu, I chatted administration staff, Anne-Marie Yawising who is from a mixed parentage of Morobe and Oro. She explained that classes had not been badly affected by the state of emergency as they used a strategy to ensure students were still provided lessons and did weekly assignments while in isolation in their dormitories.
We next visited Sopas, the village where the Enga College of Nursing is located. The area was all decorated and chairs were nicely arranged with a meter and half social distancing. The students and the staff welcomed the minister and the governor and the graduation ceremony got underway.
Nearly all students, from all over the country, graduated without their parents or guardians present to witness their achievements due to Covid-19 and the closure of airline flights.
Minister Masiu was glad to have been invited by Governor Ipatas to attend the graduation and to be back in Wabag.
“You graduands are part of a profession that is of noble, dealing with life. You are going out to the work force that demands commitment, honesty, professionalism, right attitude and right behaviour,” said the minister.
“Show respect and care for the sick. You are a new generation of health workers that are equipped with new knowledge and skills and the nation is looking at you to set new standards. Your learning does not end here, new diseases will continue to emerge and therefore you will need to keep up to date with global issues and new development in your field. As the minister responsible for ICT, I encourage you all to embrace the use of ICT as a tool.”Scholarships for Bougainvilleans
Governor Ipatas announced 20 scholarships every year to be given Bougainville students to attend the four institutions in Enga; the University of Goroka Campus, the Enga Teachers College, Enga College of Nursing and the Community Health Worker (CHW) Training Centre in Wapenamanda.
Masiu did the ground breaking to build an eight-unit apartment for teachers from the Pacific Adventist University who will be there for the nursing degree programmes.
Masiu told the governor and the staff of the college that he would be back in Sopas for the opening of the building when it is completed.
Minister Masiu also met with the Bougainville students in all those tertiary institutions in Wabag encouraging them to be focus in their studies and updating them of what Covid-19 was and what the National Government was doing.
He also encouraged them to reassure their parents back home that they are safe and doing well.
“You must always make use of the internet to update yourself about what is happening in and around the country and the world. However, be careful of some information that are misleading. Make sure you check out websites that are genuine to know more about corona virus in this case and not to panic.”
The next day was our departure time as we all packed and walked out of our rooms at Maliyam Lodge. It was sunny but still the weather was cold. We all walked down to the restaurant where we had our breakfast and was surprised with gifts Governor Ipatas and his beautiful wife Rose had for us. They presented Minister with a huge sand painting of an Engan woman and the rest of us with sand paintings of beautiful iconic symbols of the province.
Since Sir Peter was leaving for Mt Hagen that day, he asked Minister Masiu to accompany him to the launching of K4.5 million electrification project at Rakapos Village in the Kompiam-Ambum electorate.
We drove down the new Yamenges road from the main town of Wabag to Lakimanda.
- Michelle Jerewai is a media officer at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.