Ben had his day in the sun

Benjamin Boma relaxing with a child in Port Moresby.

A FEW Papua New Guineans were drafted to take up training for different jobs during the colonial administration in the 60s and 70s – at a time when education was just beginning to penetrate PNG’s primitive communities.
One typical Highlander with only a little formal education made huge and significant progress as a soldier and an aircraft maintenance engineer (AME). The pioneer AME is Benjamin Boma. Those in aviation, both nationals and expatriates, working in PNG between 70s and 80s might be familiar with this bloke.
Ben is originally from Kup-gamar, a village situated at the border of Chimbu and Jiwaka. From an interview with Ben, I learnt that he attended Kup Primary School doing grades one to four and then went on to Kondiu now a secondary school to do grades five to nine.
When he was as a youth of about 16, a mass nationwide recruitment exercise was conducted in 1970 by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in drafting young Papua New Guineans to be trained for the PNG Defense Force. He was amongst others drafted into the army.
After the successful entry test Ben and his fellow recruits went through military training at the Goldie River Training Depot for a duration of six months. After the initial basic military training Ben was first posted to the 1RPIR (First Pacific Island Regiment) at Taurama Barracks in 1971. His assignment at Taurama was for only six months and he was then transferred out to his new post at Murray Barracks for another six months.
While serving as a military officer, he had a keen interest in radio so he chose to become a radio technician after undertaking a pre-employment technical training at Idubada (now Port Moresby) Technical College under the sponsorship of Australia-PNG Defence Force. While under a two year studies to take up his dream job Ben said he also did grade 10 through external studies with the aim to meet the strict criteria set by the ADF.
Ben recalled the memorable graduation day in 1973 at Idubada where Chief Minister Michael Somare and Education Minister Ebia Olewale were guest speakers. Ben said as one of the top five students he collected first prize in both Maths and English. He said he was also thrilled to receive first prize in electronics to become a radio technician. After the successful completion of his trade studies in electronics Ben did a three-month practical with the PNGDF.
In May of 1974 an expatriate defense instructor advised Ben to sit for a psychological test with other candidates for pilot and engineer training. He got everything correct and was congratulated by an expatriate instructor, he remembers only by his first name, Richie. However, Ben’s interest was to take up engineering studies so after the selection of candidates he took up engineering studies.
The 17 successful candidates were selected to undergo studies at the ADF Wagawage air force base in New South Wales. Ben recalled some mates who were enlisted in the same intake as Peter Perry Mundy, Itana Jameson, Peter Kaleh, Louis Vatoro, Paul Kunedin, Primus Wasi, Philip Wakmari and others.
Of the 17 students undergoing training at Wagawaga 15 took up specialiised studies in aircraft frame, engineering, electrical and instruments while Ben and Peter Kaleh were sent to another Australian air force base at Laverton in Victoria for specialised radio studies. They were grouped into the same group along with the other Australian students while the low performing students were separated into a different class.
After graduation from a two-year course at Laverton school of radio, Ben was then sent to do a three-month practical at an air force base called Sale which is also in Victoria.
At the end of his three-month stint at Sale, Ben was posted back to PNG for his new posting at the Air Transport Squardon (ATS) at Jackson Airport in Port Moresby.
From then on Ben faithfully served the PNGDF as an aircraft engineer and radioman in a profession that he loved. He served the ATS from 1976 to 1985.
While on the job and in attending further courses Ben eventually proved his worth through the evidence and quality of his work output.
The Kup-gamar native finally was bestowed recognition by an expatriate licensed aircraft maintenance engineer and awarded as a certified AME himself after strict assessments and evaluations.
These are the fond memories of a determined Papua New Guinean who in his youthful years made a mark in a field that most natives at that time felt scared of.
Ben left his employment two decades ago and is now living in Port Moresby as an old man.
As the saying goes, Ben had his day in the sun.

  • Paul Minga is a freelance writer.


First echo-cardiographer passes on

James Tawila Wagiebu (12.1.1958 – 20.9.2019)
The Wagiebu children – Noel, Penny and Mali.

HELA has lost one of its most dedicated, committed, and humble public servants in James Tawila Wagiebu who was the most qualified Papua New Guinean echo-cardiographer also known as an echo tech or heart technician.
Echocardiography is a term mostly used by doctors or nurses who study an ultrasound of the human heart which shows the size and shape of the heart and how well the heart’s chambers and valves work by using the echocardiogram machine. The late James Wagiebu was the only qualified Papua New Guinean who knows how to use the machine.
Most Papua New Guineans who had gone to Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH) to check up on their heart or students who had been to University of Papua New Guinea Medical School (UPNG) might see or know a bit about Wagiebu. He was the only practicing echocardiography (ECG) technician in the country with Sir Budi Kidu Heart Institute of the PMGH who serves thousands of Papua New Guineans. He also served hundreds of UPNG students by taking part in teaching basic echo and ECG to fourth year medical students and post graduates nursing students, and also assists doctors with research studies for postgraduate masters and undergraduate medical students for BMS.
Wagiebu comes from the Pari clan of the Pandu village in the South Koroba district of Hela. He was a pioneer in education from his village to become the first Papua New Guinean echo technician. All his families and relatives did not know what he did or what his work was all about until hearing from Prof Sir Kevau during the funeral service.
It was a huge surprise to his families, tribes and Hela communities when the late Wagiebu’s colleague and family friend Prof Sir Isi Kevau announced at his funeral that Wagiebu was the only echo technician in the country.
He has been outspoken about the importance of echocardiography and talking to the Health Department to train Papua New Guineans to take up echocardiography but that had never eventuated until his sudden passing on Sept 20 this year, which has affected the operation of the ECG room at PMGH to a sudden stop.
The ECG room at PMGH was shut down for a couple of weeks now whilst searching for someone from overseas to replace him.

Ruben Mari, James Wagiebu and Ken Kama – “The Three Musketeers” – in a UPNG Medical Faculty laboratory in 1989.

James Wagiebu’s education was influenced by his late mother Wagubi Katia, a village woman who had no knowledge of what education was, fought her way for her son to be enrolled at Koroba Community School in 1966 to 1972 and he went onto do grade seven to 10 at Tari High School in 1973 to 1976. In 1977 to 1980 he attended Mt Hagen School of Nursing and in 1981 he went onto do matriculation studies at UPNG.
He and two others, Ruben Mari from Wanigela and Ken Kama from Samarai were the pioneers in the field of health science who called themselves ‘The Three Musketeers’. In 1992, late Wagiebu was the first Papua New Guinean to study echocardiography at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia followed by Ruben Mari who became the second Papua New Guinean and Ken Kama went onto study medical technology at London Biomedical Institute of Technology in United Kingdom.
These faithful and humble men from Papua who were committed to their profession -‘The Three Musketeers’ – have quietly been serving the eight million-plus people of Papua New Guinea.
The late James Wagiebu is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. He was laid to rest on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

  • By Betty Gabriel Wakia is a freelance writer and blogger.

One thought on “PEOPLE

  • Dad we loved you very much and appreciated the very physical existence of our being to be your children and thank God to give a special father in this earth to be kind and generous to us his children and everyone who got to come across him.We loved every moment with you as to how your character was and how you use to talk to us about the way to live a simple and innovative life to surpass any restrictions and trials to that will come in life.We had no time to say good bye to you to your sudden passing.We are heart broken by your loss in the family and really missed your touched that we used to been.We love you and missed you very much dad.#loveUveryMuchDad.

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