By Rev SEIK PITOI
“Mother, mentor, teacher, missionary, compassionate and caring …” were just a few of the words used to describe this special woman of God.
On Wednesday, Nov 28, at the Badihagwa Technical Secondary School hall, staff and students bid farewell to one of their former and long serving teachers, who, with her husband, clocked up around 23 years of faithful teaching service at the above school.
The late Clarissa Bala from the Oro was a career teacher, having trained at Goroka Teachers’ College (now University of Goroka). A certified high school science teacher, she met up with her husband, Maru Bala of Galomarubu Village, Rigo, Central, on the field of teaching.
After getting married, the couple travelled around the country serving at various schools. Their little family started to grow as the kids came along. The Bala family moved to Badihagwa when Maru was appointed principal in 1995. They have been there since. Their passion to help people seeking assistance for the education of their children is legendary, making them a household name to many former students and their parents around PNG.
The tributes shared at the funeral by her former students were very touching. One young lady spoke about her teacher being like a mother-figure to her with her counsel and encouragement at a time when she was going through a distressing situation at home.
She attributed her success at school and subsequent employment to the encouragement of late Mrs Bala. Another young man spoke about being an unfortunate one who did not make it into senior high school. However, it was the couple’s intervention to the education authorities that enabled them to accommodate the student and some of his colleagues, giving them a second chance at their educational pursuits.
Mrs Bala became their teacher and mentor, personally ensuring that they all did well and completed their senior high school requirements, then moving on to achieving their individual dreams and goals after school. The student expressed his gratitude, saying, “without Mrs Bala’s help, I wouldn’t have come this far!”
Similar sentiments were expressed by her teaching colleagues. Many said how, even after retiring in 2013, she was still very much involved in the school community.
Some of the students the Balas taught have become teachers themselves, with a couple of young women returning to serve at Badihagwa. Both women spoke highly of the way Mrs Bala encouraged them when they began teaching, of her motherly care for her students, and her wonderful relationship with all the teachers and their families.
One senior female teacher said Mrs Bala related as sister to all the staff members and their spouses, and was mother to all their kids! She added: “Mrs Bala retired in 2013 but she was always active in our school community. Every time she heard that a staff or their family member was sick, she and Mr Bala would be at the house, encouraging them and praying for them, then sharing what little they could to bless the family. That personal touch by late Mrs Bala and her husband was a great encouragement to the staff.”
On a personal note, her eldest daughter spoke lovingly of a mother she “shared” with the rest of the school children. Also doing her high school education at Badihagwa, she had her mother as teacher, but she saw that her mum’s care for her was the same as she cared for the other students. Her special motherly touch was a blessing to her own children, as well as to her students. Mrs Bala’s brother-in-law also expressed thanks on behalf of the Bala family to the Badihagwa school community for treating his brother and sister-in-law and their children as true family members over the years. He gave credit to late Mrs Bala for being a wonderful in-law, loving wife to her husband, and excellent mum to her kids.
The testimonies we heard at the funeral attest to the strong Christian principles the couple live by. The late Mrs Bala and her husband served as elders at the Ela United Church.
However, Mrs Bala, an Anglican by birth, never burnt her bridges. While she was very supportive of and involved in her husband’s United Church, she was equally active with the womenfolk in her Anglican communion. Since her retirement, she was actively participating in Anglican women’s programmes, besides the United Church activities in the city as well as in their village church in Galomarubu.
My wife and I had the privilege of getting to know the Balas personally when we travelled together as part of the Israel tour team of 2013. We were blessed to have come to know this very special couple whose generosity and encouragement to me as the leader of the group was a blessing. I noted that Mrs Bala was someone who took her walk with God seriously. She was a very spiritual person and was always discerning. I had the joy of baptising her, with some other pilgrims, at the Jordan River.
I remember one particular occasion during our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We had a Jewish dancing session taught by the boat crew, and there was so much laughter as we tried to get our feet to move according to the music. I was so engrossed that I forgot to call for a prayer time as we neared the port to disembark at Tiberius. That was when Mrs Bala came to me, looking quite serious, and said: “Rev, call the group together; let’s worship the Lord”. I gladly obeyed and when we gathered, Mrs Bala led us in a powerful time of worship and prayer. She was not satisfied until we prayed!
I came away after the funeral service feeling encouraged to see how a simple man and woman can use their profession of teaching to bless people. I then thought of the many terrible stories we hear about unfaithful teachers. These are the ones who abuse their students. One teacher encouraged his students to drink alcohol, another used them to be couriers to bring drugs for his use, while sadly we hear of others sexually exploiting young girls, in many cases using bribes for good marks in exchange for sexual favours. Those teachers destroy young lives. They are not worthy of being called teachers.
On the other hand, we thank God for Christian teachers like the Balas. Recently, the Minister for Education announced that he would ensure PNG schools promote Christian principles in their curriculum. Morals and ethics and right conduct as found in the Bible are to be taught to our children.
That is excellent news. But who better to teach these principles than teachers who have a personal conviction and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and whose lives and homes exemplify those values?
In that regard, it is a blessing to see Christian school principals like Mr Bala, and dedicated teachers like the late Mrs Bala, lead our schools. Their influence upon the students is tremendous, and the results show out in the lives of the students, even after they have moved on in life. The testimonies and tributes at the funeral that day prove this fact.
May the Lord give PNG many more good teachers like Mr Bala and his wife, the late Mrs Clarissa Bala. May she rest in eternal peace!
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.