School leaver defies odds

“It took me 19 years from when I first started my university studies. I just could not find time in all these years to complete it due to work and family responsibilities.” –

DO you personally know of someone who left school at an early age due to space limitation but then had to leave their home or village and move to another province hundreds of kilometres away to gain education, and eventually making an impression in their community?
I have heard of a number of such stories, and in this article I will share one with you after the subject of the story gave me the okay to write a bit about his long journey that took him from the northern coast of the mainland as a Grade 6 school leaver and up into the Highlands back in the 1980s in pursuit of education.
He not only got back into the system in a mission-run school hundreds of kilometres from home, he also started a new life with God and the rest is history, so they say.

William Bandiniakha, the educator and UPNG graduate (centre), flanked by relatives Abraham Hualupmomi (left) and Port Moresby-based educator Tobias Nangunduo after the graduation ceremony.

William Bandiniakha, a school administrator and UPNG graduate
William Huayombohn Bandiniakha brought joy and cheer to his private school in Lae, Morobe, and the Accelerated Christian Education community in the nation as well as to his many relatives and friends when he donned a University of Papua New Guinea graduation gown recently and photos of that were taken and shared with friends and relatives.
To many who knew him from years back, they were surprised that the director of Interdenominational Christian School in Lae, and father of seven children with a number of grandchildren, was graduating from the first university in PNG at the age of 58.
But those who know him from when he first left school in Wewak, in East Sepik, as well as those from his village in Haniak, in Kubalia, East Sepik, would know how Bandiniakha took a long route around the education system to eventually graduate from one of the top government universities in the country.
“I just graduated from the University of PNG with a bachelor of arts degree in professional studies in education,” he said.
“It took me 19 years from when I first started my university studies. I just could not find time in all these years to complete it due to work and family responsibilities.”
No hope and no goals after leaving school
In communicating with this writer, Bandiniakha said he was a Grade 6 dropout from Kreer Primary School, in Wewak.
“I dropped out of Kreer Primary School in 1975,” Bandiniakha said.
“I thought I was going to make it to Brandi High School but unfortunately that was not the case.”
He said he was discouraged and went to do correspondence school at YC Kaindi but did not complete his studies because he was distracted by so many other things, as would be the case with many young people.
He later learned vocational skills at St Joseph’s Vocational School (which was then situated where the current Bishop Leo Secondary School is at).
“After completing my vocational studies in the 1980s, I did nothing creative with that and joined my cousins and other relatives at Ularina village, just outside Wewak urban centre, who had a live band and were playing in gigs around Wewak and many villages in East Sepik,” he said.
“Education-wise, I still felt that I was a nobody though and was looking for ways to upgrade my education.”
He said by then some of his village boys and older relatives were studying at the PNG Bible Institute in Pabarabuk, Southern Highlands.
“I heard that some of my peers from the village, like Tobias Nangunduo, John Kriosaki, and the late Dominic Katen, were students at the institute in the Highlands and I made plans to join them,” he said.
“Pastor Joe Katen, from my village, recommended me to the institute and I started Grade 7 at Pabarabuk at the age of 22.”

Finding teaching as a calling
Bandiniakha said he was trained as a layman from the PNG Bible Institute and later got into teaching at the Mt Hagen Christian Academy as a junior teacher.
He helped students work with their ACE levels, which is a program that follows an alternative curriculum created in USA by educators Donald and Esther Howard.
“It was while teaching at Mt Hagen that I found out that teaching was and is my calling,” he said.
“I have always been an educator since those early days. I have never held any other job in all my working life, for the whole 29 years.”
He taught at Mt Hagen for nine years, from 1991-1999, but while guiding students to move up their grade levels he found time from his busy schedule to study at the Western Highlands Uni Centre and graduate with a matriculation certificate.
He was then recommended by the principal of the school at Mt Hagen, the late Jay Freeman, to the principal’s position at the AOG school in Lae, and that was where he served from 2000 to 2006.
“I was by then married to Petrolyne, who is part Passam and part Haniak,” Bandiniakha said.
“After 2006, my wife and I decided to start Interdenominational Christian School in Lae.”
The wife is specialised in ACE phonics and the school was a plan that they both decided on after seeing the need for children in the city to be educated in a Christian environment and using a Christian curriculum.

The desire to learn continues
For most people, getting a job, and possibly becoming the head of an organisation is the pinnacle in their profession.
That is not the case with Bandiniakha.
As an educator, he saw the need to continue to upgrade himself knowing that the knowledge gained would enrich the lives of students who were in his institution.
“I have a Christian education training certificate from ACE, a technical certificate (science technology) from the Lae Technical College and a diploma in education primary in-service from Balob Teachers College,” he said.
“And now, I have a bachelor of arts degree from UPNG.”
Bandiniakha will not stop there though, and it seems the desire to learn is still there, and he said: “I want to proceed onto a master’s degree program to add more value to the school that we are running in Lae and the children who are learning there.”

Learning from his father and others
Bandiniakha is a real believer in education and has not only upgraded himself but also urges others to do the same, including his own children.
He continues to support his children in school, including a girl who recently graduated from Pensacola Christian College in the United States, another girl is at the Pacific Adventist University in Port Moresby, while a son is studying architecture at the University of Technology in Lae.
Bandiniakha said his father was an old-time health worker but switched to taking on a janitor’s role when the health department was taking on Standard 1, 2 and 3 aid post orderlies.
“I learned something from my father and his sorry situation,” he said.
“Good education was the key to keeping a good job,” he said, and he was told to emulate his other kinsmen who gained university education and had fared better, like senior government heads Valentine Kambori and the late Alois Branch.
“Those were things I learned from my father and his situation back then.”

Bandiniakha: Never give up

Bandiniakha and his school in Lae believe in extending their services to the underprivileged in their city.
He said they had a program where they were reaching out to help educate children at the Kamkumung settlement in Lae, those who had no way of getting the basic start in education.
When asked if he had any tips for young people regarding education, he said: “Perseverance is key. Never give up. Have a dream and work on it to achieve it.”
Even without those words, Bandiniakha’s journey in education is a lesson enough for anyone who may be a dropout, or someone who is labelled a failure but wants to get back into the system.
The world is not supposed to end where you get dropped off.
If you can dream and work your way out of your misery, then you can realise that dream.
Even if it takes you 19 years.

  • Thomas Hukahu is an Australia Awards student in Adelaide, South Australia.