By ALPHONSE BARIASI
THIS is a life partly lived but one well worth celebrating already.
It is the life of a single mum who would have given up any hope of a good education and a rewarding life.
But Esther Vanika Kairi is never one to give up easily, when given a little encouragement. Esther is what could be described as an indomitable spirit trapped in a fragile body. Where she is now, from being a Grade 10 drop-out in 1996 to an MBA graduate in 2021, is essentially a tribute to that.
She thanks God for His continuous guidance in her life.
She was born with bronchial asthma and grew up in Kero, Ialibu, in the Southern Highlands.
“Dad was a teacher and mum a stay-home mum during this time.”
Esther spent her primary school days growing up in Kagua SHP, and then Ialibu, attending Kero Community School, till Grade 5 early 1987 till 1993. The pristine air of the mountains was a bonus and she enjoyed her time there. She also is proud of her highlands upbringing and considers Kero her second home.
Nevertheless family problems began to creep in, and her dad took on a second wife. This resulted in her mum leaving the highlands to escape the regular beating and further abuse. Esther and her younger brother stayed back in the highlands with their dad. It was during her time that she stepped up to look after her younger brother who was still a toddler and not yet in school. Life in the highlands without a mother at that early age had its challenges, she recalls.
Finally, when in Grade 6 she was forced to change her lifestyle and move back to her home district in Baimuru, Gulf Province. This is where she completed Grades 6 and attended Ihu High School to complete her Grade 10. She dropped out of school after Grade 10 concentrate on her health in 1997. A year later, however, she decided to move to Port Moresby to seek education and job opportunities. She enrolled at Port Moresby Grammar School and completed Grade 11 but could not do Grade 12 due to financial constraints.
It was during this time that she began to live with relatives and eventually with friends from Bougainville and East New Britain, and tried out several part time jobs at shops to go by.
IBS creates career pathway
Esther managed to save enough money to enrol for a course at Institute of Business Studies.
“This was thanks to my highlands upbringing which gave me that resolve to save up and do something better.”
She had saved up to K1,000 and with that enrolled at IBS for a certificate course in computing.
“I was fortunate dad helped me with the fees; he is a strong believer in education.”
IBS had in fact laid her foundation, setting her on a trajectory of career advancement.
“I was fortunate to have been offered an additional course at IBS and I believe they actually opened up a career pathway for me from there. I was on job placement training at the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC).”
“Friends I lived with encouraged me a lot when I got the casual job at IRC. They told me the pay and conditions did not matter, the first impression I leave with the people at work was the critical thing.
“I did casual work but besides that I also did odd job around the place whilst on job training and this included washing cups and plates if I needed to. After six months I became a casual worker there and was paid K190 a fortnight. Out of tha, I sent K60 to mum in the village and lived on the balance.
Then a clerical assistant position became vacant so Esther applied and was hired. The pay improved to K350. She started a savings account then. After a year she was promoted to payroll officer and spent the next five years in that position.
But through the five years she has had experience name calling and discrimination of the worst kind.
“I was a payroll clerk and handled a lot of staff salary issues. They called me pipia payroll clerk, at times.” The worst insult was sometimes to do with her medical condition. Some better qualified officers also made comments to her about her education level and medical condition, but instead of being intimidated that only galvanised her resolve to better herself.
“I made up my mind to apply for university level education and get out of that toxic environment.”
An AusAid funded project was looking for persons with HR experience so Esther applied and was successful. And it was a lucky move as the man she was to report directly to was Jerry Wemin, the current president of the PNG Human Resource Management Institute.
“He saw what was in me and advised me to apply for a degree programme either at University of PNG or Divine Word University. I applied to DWU and Jerry did for me a good reference letter to support the application. Jerry also challenged her to make better use of her spare time.
“I applied and fortunately, this time there was no issue with money as I had saved up. I applied for the diploma in HR programme and did it by single units at the Port Moresby campus of DWU. In fact I was among the first group of candidates to do that at the Port Moresby campus. Esther graduated in 2005 with the diploma.”
She saved up again and enrolled into the degree course. She resigned from JTA (in the AusAid-funded programme) and joined Orion Group. While working there she completed the degree course.
By then she was comfortable financially to help pay for her siblings education and sent for her mum and dad to come to Port Moresby from the village in Gulf.
Fixed view of men
“I come from a broken family. Dad married at least three separate women. We have all been affected by this and my mum has silently suffered emotional abuse for the length of her marriage. I have experienced firsthand abuse, which affected my education and my view of men and relationships has unfortunately been shaped by that.
“In 2013 I fell pregnant and spent seven months in Ward 10 at the Port Moresby General Hospital.”
It was a life-threatening mistake considering her health condition, to fall pregnant. But never mind, she is now a dotting mama of an intelligent seven year old daughter, free of course of her mother’s asthma.
“Due to the pregnancy, the asthma condition deteriorated and it came to a stage where a decision had to be made whether to terminate the pregnancy or I would die trying to give birth. A nurse came to my bedside with a solution which I was to take to end the pregnancy. I simply refused and she scolded me severely.
“I was asked by the doctor what I wanted and I told her I worked hard in my life and was not going to give up that easily. Even if I had to become a single mother. I’m not going to die. I’m am having this baby. God will enable that. After this baby there will be no more.
“The doctor there told me, ‘we do only 50 per cent of trying to save you, the rest is between you and God’.” On Dec 22, 2013, Esther went into labour around night-time. Her daughter was born on the Dec 24, 2013 a few hours to Christmas Day.
“The birth of my daughter is a miracle itself. I was on steroids and when my time came, I felt no contractions, no birth pains, whatever. I had to be given medications to start the contractions. Several hours of labour is not an easy feat for those who have been through this experience. When I could not give birth I had to undergo caesarean operation.”
Because of the pregnancy the asthma worsened and all of 2014 she was very ill and out of work to fully concentrate on recovery.
In early 2013 she had started one unit of the Masters in Business Administration (MBA) programme at the DWU campus. Pregnancy, motherhood and unemployment halted her studies and she was not able to continue. In 2015 she started working gain as her medical condition had improved greatly and joined two different companies.
However there were restrictions within her employer at that time and she could not continue seeing her doctor for medications. This affected her health seriously.
“I would spend a night in the emergency bed and ward, and go back to work in the morning with the cannula in my hand for repeat medications, swollen face and hands due to medication. It was a struggle – dealing with studies, work, illness, family, single mother, all at once.
“I tried to continue the MBA programme but failed a number of units. I was then about to give everything up. It took me seven years to complete the programme.
“At that, time staff of DWU Port Moresby Campus encouraged me to never give up.”
Esther also thanks Dr Cecilia Nembou, the then university president and Pokana Gima of the Port Moresby campus for not giving up on her. She finally completed the last two units in 2020 while working as HR manager at Total Waste Management, a job she still holds today.
How does she manage?
“I have greatly improved – no major attacks for over two years now. I know my triggers and when I need to go to the hospital, I drive myself there. They hospital staff know me well and I thank the PomGen emergency department and Paradise Private Hospital for their assistance when I need urgent medication.
“My present employer is very supportive unlike before when I had faced so much discrimination at the work place.
What of the future?
“People ask me how I did it (graduate with the MBA) and how I feel about it and I tell them this: Persistence – never give up. When it comes to individual progress, you are your own boss. I am now able to understand people around me better.
She is also requesting employers and employees alike to recognise and support people living with asthma.
“We can and will deliver in workplaces. We just need to have a better understanding of what the challenges are. In addition, a better understanding of the illness and proper policies to assist people like this go a long way in contributing to their workplaces, families and country as a whole.
“My aim to share my story is so not only women but men alike would appreciate that achieving success is not about perfection but about progress and working your way up despite struggles in life.
“It is a very long journey full of emotions and hard work. I still find myself emotional after talking about this.”