By EREBIRI ZURENUOC
Andakombi is a government station in the Yelia local level government of Obura-Wonenara District of Eastern Highlands.
The village itself lies just near the borders of Morobe and Gulf. There is no road network connecting the station to Goroka town. The station can only be reached by a 30-minute flight by light aircraft.
Though located in EHP, all economic activities are conducted or accessed through the Menyamya District of Morobe.
Every day people carry 50kg to 60kg bags of coffee up steep hills bordering Menyamya and Obura-Wonenara districts, to sell at Kwaplalim just to fetch K70 or K80. With the inflated cost of goods and services, nothing much could be taken back to the village.
I met a teacher, Kude Kol, who dropped by The National office at Voco Point, Lae, on Friday, Jan 18. He gave a story regarding the opening of a two-storey double classroom for a school.
He had walked for two days from Andakombi to Menyamya station, to catch a PMV to Lae. I was interested in listening to him talk about the remote school.
Kol has been teaching at Andakombi Primary School for the last three years. One thing he saw which he deemed unfair was the lack of basic government services to the area.
He wanted to share his experience in this remote village, and the daily struggles of the unfortunate that most people in the cities and town may not realise exist.
Andakombi Primary School is the only level four schools situated in the midst of 10 villages, serving 400-plus students from the area, Kol tells me.
“Other villages were qualified to receive community or elementary schools, but they were denied,” he claimed.
“Currently, only eight teachers serve in this primary school.”
The school was established as an elementary school in 1989 with semi-permanent infrustructure which had deteriorated since. It received primary school status in 2010, however, not much funding has been set aside to support the school’s expansion.
Since 2010, the parents started building classrooms and teacher’s houses for the primary school.
“A Lucas sawmill was brought to the village, and a four-in-one double classroom and five teachers houses were constructed, but the buildings are not yet opened because we ran out of funds.”
Kol says the landowners and villagers were very supportive and have given trees to be made into timber.
“Villagers with carpentry skills were contracted. Despite the lack of National Government support in terms of the tuition fee-free (TFF) policy, the school grew from strength to strength with limited resources.”
Kol says the students need a complete education, and plans currently underway are to raise the school to high school status by 2020 so that children would continue to grade 10.
“There is not much hope for children to continue to tertiary level and the illiteracy rate still remains high,” he says.
On Feb 11, Kol dropped by again, but this time he brought a local leader and one other villager along with him. Their stories, and the pictures Kol showed, were hard to digest.
Ward 32 councilor from Yakana Village, Michael Kude and villager Dicksy Guiye spoke about their experiences of life in Andakombi and surrounding villages.
“When worse comes to worst I sometimes go around villages giving medicine to people who are sick and sleeping in their huts,” Guiye said.
“There is nothing much they can do help themselves. Whatever medicine I give, they accept, because there is no other way to help them fight illnesses.”
According to Kude, the Andakombi sub-health centre serves more than 8,000 people and there are only two volunteer health workers there.
“There is no health extension officer posted into this facility. Also, it is one of the deteriorating facilities in the area. It was constructed in 1986, through funding from the Australian Government.”
Guiye says the worst disease in the area is tuberculosis (TB) and many have suffered from it over the years. “Many people, even myself, travel to Menyamya station to get TB drugs until we got cured.”
Kol says a rare disease back in 2015 nearly killed most of the children. Symptoms of the disease appeared on the children’s mouths, eyes and other parts of their bodies.
Kude says many mothers have died due to birth complications, children have passed on due to preventable diseases such as typhoid, malaria, TB, dysentery and many more.
They say the only mode of transport is by aireplanes. The school and medical supplies from Goroka are transported by four aviation companies; Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF), Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), New Tribes Mission (NTM) and SDA Mission.
“For people to travel to Goroka by airplane, it costs K450 for a 30-minute flight. There is not much economic activity for people to earn such an amount of money,” Kude said.
“These planes have also been assisting in flying emergency patients to Goroka Provincial Hospital. Because of high cost of airfares, people find it difficult to travle by air.
“Our airstrips are being washed away by floods and landslides. When these airstrips encounter problems, people find life so much difficult, because there is no other means to receive government services,” he says.
Andakombi remains one of the forgotten outlying stations striving to meet daily challenges in its own way.
The trio and village magistrate, Misek Hilzeneko agree that road construction is very important in the area.
“We have not seen any cars in the village since 1975. But local leaders have managed to start a road project, the Asakumdi to Andakombi road,” Kol said.
The 26km road construction is a newly built. It was funded by the Member for Obura-Wonenara Mehrra Kipefa and the former Member for Menyamya Benjamin Philip.
“This road is constructed purposely to connect a large number of people living on the borders of Eastern Highlands, Morobe and Gulf, through the thick jungles, fast flowing rivers and high and rugged mountain ranges,” Kude said.
“Between these two government stations are four major rivers which have destroyed homes, killed pregnant mothers and students, and washed away gardens.”
He says the rivers remain a concern for communities during bad weather.
“When villagers want to transport their produce to Asakumdi/Kwaplalim, they lose nearly all their properties to the rivers,” Kude says.
“Care International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) has constructed a footbridge over the Kopale, one of the largest rivers there.”
He says Kipefa and Philip gave K1 million for the road construction, with one bulldozer and a dump truck.
“Construction began from Asakumdi in Menyamya to the border of Morobe and EHP. It stopped there and additional funding is needed to continue all the way to Andakombi; there is a distance of about 8km to complete.”
For people in remote and isolated places like Andakombi and its surrounding villages, an equal distribution of government services is important.
They have waited this long since independence and their daily struggles will continue.
Only time will tell how they fare in the future.
By EREBIRI ZURENUOC