“In my remaining time as managing director, I am going to turn this around. This is my commitment to our beneficiaries, to work with the landowner directors of the respective trust companies to make education our priority. Where the Government cannot deliver, we must use the little we have to provide those basic needs in our communities.” – MRDC Managing Director Augustine Mano.
MEET Iris and Judy, from Bisi village along the mighty Kikori River, in Gulf.
Their village is about an hour away from Kikori station, if you travel on a 40hp dinghy.
For the locals who use traditional dugout canoe, it is a three-hour trip to the station to seek goods and services available there.
On a bright sunny day, the crocodiles that infest this stretch of the waterway would come out to sunbathe, a beautiful, wild, untamed scene for the outsider.
For Iris and Judy and the locals, this would be their daily experience as they travel by canoe to reach Kikori for basic services.
The two girls are currently in Grade 3 at Bisi Primary School which has only one double classroom, built in 2012 by Exxon Mobil as part of a PNG LNG project’s barging route waterways community project.
The other building, no longer used, is a remnant of Chevron Niugini days in PNG, built almost 24 years ago.
Here, 46 school children from prep class to Grade 6 are cramped into the dilapidated classroom, with exposed floorboards. There are no desks; the children sit on the rotting floorboards, a result of wear and tear over time due to the harsh, humid Kikori weather.
All 46 children are taught by Karamu Hila, head teacher and the only teacher there, who has been at the school for 18 years. With scarce teaching materials at his disposal, he does his best to give these children an education, and a chance at a better future.
Speaking to the media, Hila says, the conditions are so discouraging some students elect to drop out of school and do not bother to return.
That is why many do not make it past Grade 6. For those who do, the nearest secondary school is a three-hour canoe ride in crocodile-infested waters.
The state of the school shocked MRDC Managing Director Augustine Mano, who led a team to the area over the Independence week.
“When I say ‘leave no child behind’ I meant every word,” Mano said when he visited the school and learnt of Hila’s experience.
Mano journeyed down the Kikori River on a mission to see for himself the realities and hardships faced by the many communities along the river. Bisi Village was the first stop.
“This is unacceptable when we have a multi-billion kina oil and gas pipeline near the vicinity of this school. Oil has been flowing through here for the last 30 years and gas in the last seven years.
“We cannot deny these children their right to an education, a proper education, and the opportunity to continue on to being educated men and women who will contribute meaningfully to the country.”
Education is a basic right for every child in PNG.
The Government has made it a priority to ensure each child receives an education up to Grade 10, with a particular commitment to seeing girls given every opportunity.
Yet, the sad reality for children like Judy and Iris is they are already disadvantaged by their circumstances, through no fault of theirs.
“In my remaining time as managing director, I am going to turn this around.
“This is my commitment to our beneficiaries, to work with the landowner directors of the respective trust companies to make education our priority.
“Where the Government cannot deliver, we must use the little we have to provide those basic needs in our communities,” Mano said.
MRDC through its subsidiaries have embarked on a mission to do something about the lack of basic services in remote project area communities.
Clans in the Kikori area whose land the PNG LNG project pipeline runs through receive royalty and equity cash benefits.
They are identified as Segment 7 landowners. They received their first ever benefits early this year, of which 30 per cent is earmarked as a community infrastructure trust fund (CITF).
Segment 7 landowner leaders will determine which community impact infrastructure projects to build, and classrooms and teachers houses are top priorities.
Setting the pace are the PNG LNG plant site villages, where the Gas Resources Plant Site has built 20 classrooms, 12 staff houses and a health center in the last two years.
In Kutubu, Petroleum Resources Kutubu (PRK) recently delivered a four-in-one classroom block and a staff house for Gesege Primary School, while schools in Aiho and Waro are set to receive school trucks in coming weeks.
For project area villages in Gobe, Petroleum Resources Gobe (PRG) is close to completing several school infrastructure projects in Semberigi for Don Mosely Secondary School.
The trip to Kikori certainly put things into perspective for MRDC to continue this mission of leaving no child behind.
“We have a chance to right our wrongs, we can change their circumstance,” says Mano.
For Iris and Judy, the work underway by MRDC to deliver better classrooms and learning materials will hopefully encourage them to complete Grade 6, so they can take the three-hour trip down the river to Kikori Secondary School and a chance at a better life.
- Story and pictures by Mineral Resources Development Company public relations.