By PETER ESILA
WHEN he watched his labourer father struggling to pay the school fees for him and his five siblings, Grade Nine student Donald Dauma decided to find work to help.
Donald, 49, now the project manager of the Oil Palm Industry Corporation (Opic) project in New Ireland, tells of how a business lady paid for his fees the following year after hearing his story.
Donald is from Aure village on the north coast of Popondetta in Oro. He is married to Esther Lakaleng from Panamana village, Nalik, in Kavieng district, near where he works. They have five children.
Eldest son Derrick, 22, lives and works in Australia as a mobile crane operator. Second eldest Henry, 19, is in Grade 10. Daughter Rita, 15, is in Grade Eight at the Poliamba Primary School. Son Mathew, 10, is in Grade Two at Poliamba Elementary and youngest son Paul is in elementary prep.
Donald himself is the second eldest in a family of six born to Evertius Dauma and Phlysmary Tudeia. He watched his dad struggling to pay their school fees as he was earning only K38 a fortnight, working as a labourer at the Higaturu Oil Palm.
“I remember the time he was earning only K38 per fortnight but the school fees were K600 to K700 per student per year. He later left Higaturu to join the Opic Popondetta project as a labourer to find money for our school fees as we were in high and primary school.
“It was a struggle for my father. My mother was left at home with my small sister and brother at home.”
In 1986, Donald asked his headmaster to write a reference for him so that he could look for work. He wanted to pay his own Grade 10 school fees the following year.
So during the Christmas holidays in 1986, he was offered a job at a shop, earning K60 a fortnight. He knew it was not enough. He enquired at the Steamships Supermarket where the lady boss – Mavis Undaba – pitied him when she heard he was looking for work to pay for his school fees.
“ It was a struggle for my father. My mother was left at home with my small sister and brother at home.”
She is from Tufi and married to a Malaysian working as an engineer at the Higaturu oil palm mill. They have two children – David Undaba Wong and Katie Undaba Wong.
She invited Donald to spend the Christmas holiday with her family. They also paid for his school fees in 1987.
He will always be grateful to the Wong family.
In 1990, Donald joined the Defence Force for six months. Before leaving to work for the Highlands Products (Zenag Chicken) in Lae as the Mumeng farm boiler supervisor from 1990 to October, 1991.
He left to join the Constabulary in November 1991 and left in 1994 to work with WR Carpenters and Company Estates. He served as the field manager for the Kudjip Tea Estate in Jiwaka from 1995 to 1998.
He worked for the Coconut Products Ltd in East New Britain as estate manager in 1999 before joining the Poliamba Oil Palm Ltd in Kavieng, New Ireland as assistant manager from 2000 to 2013.
“I attended so many short courses in management and one of them was in Cairns, Australia at the Burdekin Agricultural College.”
In 2014, he joined the Opic project in Kaveing, New Ireland as an extension officer. He was promoted this year to be the acting project manager.
One problem he face was transporting fresh fruit bunches from the blocks to the mill as some roads were in bad shape, and there were not enough trucks.
“The project also had buildings which were about to collapse or condemned. Thanks to the Government’s agriculture intervention funds, renovations of our office and houses are continuing. With the leadership of our acting general secretary Kepson Pupita, we are seeing big changes taking place unlike before.”
As project manager, he plans to improve on how farmers’ grievances are addressed, and staff morale.
Donald is happy with where he is at – after a long road of hard lessons. He knows everything happens for a reason, and the hard times one goes through builds one’s character, and makes one a much stronger person.