From Mendi to POM – my education journey

Ethel Tol

By ETHEL TOL, Mendi, Southern Highland
LIVING in a town in Southern Highlands, and being the fifth eldest in a family of seven, I had to follow the footsteps of my elder siblings.
That included doing household chores, walking to and from school every day and staying on top of my school work.
My school was on the other side of town. Since Mendi is a small town, everyone walks to school and back every day and I was no exception.
A typical lunch would be a scone and juice which could be bought for K2. So I didn’t need a lot of money.
My parents were working and life was good. But life is not always sunshine and laughter. As sure as the weather changes, so does life.
In 2011, my mum moved to Port Moresby to work and live there. Life was about to change for me. Without my mum, and since my elder siblings had also moved out of the family home, I had to spend a lot more time doing household chores, including looking after my brother who was just four years old. Two years of hard work, managing my time between home and school responsibilities, paid off with higher grades and a move to Port Moresby.
I joined my mother and attended the girls-only Marianville Secondary School. Little did I know the sacrifices which awaited me in the big city when it came to getting an education.
For the next four years, I would wake up at 3am to do my homework before getting ready for school.
In the first two years – grades 9 and 10 – I would commute back and forth from school with my elder sister.
Leaving the house at 5am, we would get on a bus, often after a long wait and battling my way through people. After a 30-minute trip, we would get off and wait for the school bus.
Living far from the school, the long journey every day was physically and mentally tiring. Most of the time, depending on the weather, a one-way trip took over three hours.
School finished at 4pm, but often we wouldn’t get home until after 7pm. After my sister graduated from school, I continued to make the same trip on my own.
The thoughts of how far the school was from my home kept running through my mind when I would wake up every morning. The combination of homework and household chores with little sleep was tough.
Sometimes because of heavy rain, the road would be flooded forcing us to walk to get to school.
Most of the time I arrived at school late, often missing an entire lesson, or the start of one.
As if the distance wasn’t bad enough, my daily allowance during the four years in high school covered only my fares to and from school.
It was just my mum who was financially responsible for my two elder siblings, my two younger siblings and myself. Despite that, I managed to stay on top of my studies and successfully completed Year 12.
When I was accepted into university, and got a scholarship, I was relieved that I could board and learn to be more independent.
Looking back now, I would say I was fortunate to go to a good high school, and to have my mother’s support and encouragement. The difficulties I faced which affected my education were finance, the distances to travel, and the household tasks.
(Ethel Tol is studying Public Policy at the University of PNG. She was one of 10 students selected to attend the 2020 Australian National University-UPNG Summer School programme.)

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