…Americans should be teaching Papua New Guineans to read and write and not vice versa
By JOSEPH KENA’E KA’AU
THE Mckeans cried as they recalled the joy, when their son Isaac returned from school one day and announced that he could read, thanks to his teacher, Mary.
But sadly teacher Mary passed away in the early hours of Friday, Oct 1 this year.
The story may be typical of many students and parents throughout the country, but not this one. Isaac is an eight-year-old American boy attending Kapuna Life School in Gulf. His parents, Marshall and Kelly are volunteers working in Kapuna.
Presumably, Americans should be teaching Papua New Guineans to read and write and not vice versa.
Isaac started school at kindergarden when the Mckeans arrived in Kapuna, Marshall as project manager and Kelly to help out wherever needed and to ensure that Marshall and the children were well taken care of.
Isaac started his education in 2019. When he advanced to Grade 1 the following year Mary was his teacher until September this year when she could teach no more.
Mary Aria may like just be another teacher anywhere in Papua New Guinea. And her passing, just another teacher passing on. Maybe her funeral, no big deal. Just a simple affair involving family and community.
But for the McKeans, Mary was not just another teacher. She had helped Isaac master the art of reading. She was their closest neighbour and friend, all of their time in Kapuna. She was always smiling and helpful whenever required. They will miss her.
Teacher Mary passed away after battling with cancer.
Mourners arrived from all corners of the Baimuru LLG area to pay their respects when news of Mary’s passing was received.
Condolences were even received from the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and from the Netherlands. From those who were touched by knowing Mary. Former colleagues and students conveyed their expressions of sorrow.
The acting Prime Minister at that time, Kikori MP Soroi Eoe and his family sent their condolences. They knew Mary well.
The Kapuna community stood still to pay their respects.
Teacher Mary had started her teaching career at the Kapuna Life School 16 years ago. She worked for 10 years as a volunteer teacher assistant and five years as a qualified teacher after graduating from the PNG Education Institute in 2016. Even after resuming at Kapuna school, she was not on the government payroll until this year.
Sadly, after graduating she was diagnosed with breast cancer. An operation in 2018 seemed to bring some relief to herself and her family. But earlier this year, after complaining of chest pains, an examination revealed that the cancer had returned, this time at an advanced stage. Mary, despite her condition, taught until late Septzember when her body could not support her anymore.
From Mapaio village, a few kilometres upstream from Kapuna, 37-year-old Mary had followed in the footsteps of her father Aria Vaii, who was until very recently, the longest serving teacher in the Gulf Province.
Her husband Morea, being a qualified medical worker, tried to remain calm and positive. But he broke down in tears when he saw his wife exhale her last breath. He could treat any other disease found in Baimuru. But not cancer, as it was with his wife now.
Morea knew that cancer at an advanced stage could not be cured. He also knew that there was no available treatment for cancer in many major hospitals in the country. Kapuna as a rural hospital was no exception.
Mary and Morea had spent all their working lives in Kapuna, serving the people of the Kikori district mainly those of the Baimuru LLG area of the Gulf. Mary served as a teacher at the Kapuna LIfe School and Morea as a health worker and as an assessor at the Kapuna Hospital and the Kapuna Nursing College. Both are from Baimuru.
In memory of his wife, Morea promised to spend the rest of his life working in Kapuna, serving his people of Baimuru.
And when their calling is over, the Mckeans will return to America with fond memories of Mary and of Kapuna.
The Mckeans, Kapuna and Baimuru bid Mary Aria farewell.
- Joseph Ka’au is a freelance writer