By ALPHONSE BARIASI
ALTHOUGH it is only a small solution to a huge social problem in Port Moresby, the Strongim Pikinini education programme of the Life PNG Care is producing wonderful results.
Several children sponsored by the programme are now in secondary and tertiary level.
Regina Yans is one such success story of a bright child whose potential would have gone to waste.
She entered the Life PNG Care home for street children at Port Moresby’s Gerehu suburb as a four-year-old in 2005.
Unlike others at the centre whose fathers had abandoned them or could not afford to cater well for them, Regina’s died two months before she was born on Oct 22, 2001 in a Port Moresby suburb.
Following her father’s death, she was taken to Mt Hagen but her mum returned with her to the capital a couple of years later, only to find raising a kid on her own daunting.
Relatives heard about Life PNG Care and brought Regina in and she was welcomed into the large family of children from similar backgrounds.
Colin and Freda Pake, the founders of the centre became mum and dad for her and the others.
Each child in the Strongim Pikinini education programme is offered mentoring or counselling as required. The success of this programme is only possible through the valuable financial support of local corporates and business houses.
The first year of operation saw 75 children helped into the public education system.
After home schooling using the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum she and a few other senior girls and boys found places at the city’s public schools.
Today, 17-year-old Regina is a Grade 11 student at Marianville Secondary School.
“There are a lot of things I want to do after school. I want to be a doctor but the subjects I’m studying may not be suited for that,” Regina says.
She plans to become a chemist. What’s nudging her in that direction is her dismay in seeing lot of foreign products, especially cosmetics and medicines, flooding the country without stringent checks.
“I have been in Port Moresby all of my life and would love to study in another province,” Regina says.
Looking back at how she has come from being a destitute four-year-old to an intelligent teenager in one of country’s top school’s Regina’s eyes sparkle with a determination to help others.
“I would do anything to fund or help an organisation like this (Life PNG Care). I see that life is hard so I would do anything to help.”
It is a conviction borne out of Life PNG Care’s values which the teen has grown up with.
Colin Pake’s strong Assemblies of God upbringing and active youth engagement in church activities like caring for the homeless and the sick, has much to do with this.
Pake, a certified practicing accountant, says people who plan on going to school to work later and make a living for themselves have a very narrow view of what the human experience should be about.
“Life is more than working to make a living. It also involves meeting the needs of others.”
Pake and his wife have spent the past 12 years doing that. They have taken in homeless children with the help of community leaders, housed them and provided them an education.
What they have been doing is only a small attempt at a huge social problem that could reach catastrophic levels if others do not share their vision, passion and concern.
There are thousands of out-of-school kids in the streets of the city and this is plain to see but rather than putting money into active programmes, government agencies were preoccupied with surveys, policy documents and meetings, Pake says.
He has made a number of attempts to get the municipal government to assist. He says the biggest need he has presently is for a plot of land to establish facilities for Life PNG Care and move out of the current rented premises.
Although it has been struggle after 12 years he remains focused on what he has set out to do.
“If I turn one little boy into something, that would be my satisfaction.”
He reckons too much time and energy on trying to resolve issues affecting adults who have lived much of their lives. Instead of that, greater investment should be made in children.
“There’s potential to be unlocked but only visionary leaders would see that.”
He warns that a time bomb awaits us if street children are left uncared for today.
Pake has engaged a team of volunteers to produce short documentaries which would be uploaded on You Tube for a wider audience to appreciate and perhaps support his work.
Apart from Regina Life PNG Care has sponsored other students attending Marianville Secondary School, Limana Technical Secondary School, University of PNG and Port Moresby Technical College.
Last year the charity started its Mobile Education Programme for out-of-school kids in two electorates. The schools are run by a team of 11 volunteers – eight teachers, two assistants and a driver.
Classes in the mobile school – at the Baruni Dump for Moresby North West and Erima for the Moresby North East – are conducted under two tents.
Elementary school-aged children are prepared for transition into public schools using the ACE curriculum but in following the PNG school calendar.
Students are identified from within the settlement or suburb areas. The sad reality is that the education programme caters for only a tiny portion of out-of-school children. In both areas, a total of 5,000 children were identified and registered but only 380 were actually enrolled.
It is a two-year programme which ends at the end of this year.
British novelists, poet, lay theologian and Christian apologist CS Lewis said education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a cleverer devil.
Education based on values does the world much good. This is the kind of education Life Care PNG wants for the young children it takes under its custody.
For Collin and Freda Pake that is the vision and ideal that motivates them in their efforts to provide an education for Port Moresby’s less fortunate children.
And it is their hope that children like Regina who have been raised and educated by them will be driven by the same values to impact the world around them when their time comes around.
By ALPHONSE BARIASI