By REBECCA KUKU
IT was March 27, 1997, and the then Prime Minister Julius Chan had resigned. The country was facing a crisis (known as the Sandline Crisis) for the first time since gaining Independence but one man stood up for his country. He stood to bring peace back to his country. That man was the late John Giheno.
I was seven years old then, but I remember seeing people march and protest on the streets. And I remember people talking of a man called Giheno who had taken the place of Julius Chan to become the Prime Minister as there were alleged scandals regarding the hiring of foreign mercenaries to fight rebels on the island of Bougainville. The use of mercenaries resulted in a Papua New Guinea Defence Force mutiny codenamed ‘Operasen Rausim Kwik’ and riots on Bougainville.
To me, Giheno was the leader, the knight in shining armour that brought peace to the country. A politician who took the reins of the country in one of the darkest period of the country’s history and steered it back to the light. But that’s how I remember him, as a politician. But his children, have a totally different story to tell of the great person the late John Giheno was. This is their story of their father.
Born on a farm in Kabuifa Seventh Day Adventist Mission Station, John was the second in a family of eight. His father was a farm master and his mother a housewife. Life for him growing up was not easy and he would often tell his children of how he and his siblings would wear the same T-shirt for a solid two years because their parents couldn’t afford new ones.
Growing up in a mission station, he was lucky enough to be given the privilege of education. As a youngster John would watch his mother struggling to give her children a home, food and clothes and he believed that education was the only way for him to liberate his family from the poverty they encountered.
He became one of the first person from his family, tribe, village and district to come to the University of Papua New Guinea where he studied Science and graduated with the highest marks in his class.
John married his sweet heart Julie from Pipitombos village in Wabag and they had three daughters- Nina, Mona Lisa and Joyce and one son, Malcolm.
John entered politics in 1982. Altogether, he served for 15 years as a politician. He also served as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Trade and Industry, Minister for Mining and Petroleum. Under these ministries he established community policing and launched the Misima and Lihir mines. After his political career ended in 1997, he became a private business Man.
His children never remembered him as a politician or a business man. He was just Dad to them. A family man, he never brought work home, never brought politics home and when he was home, he was just Dad.
Having grown up in poverty, he was passionate about fighting poverty. He believed that education was the only way to liberate people from it. And, through years of seeing his mother struggle to fend for her children, he had a great respect for women and believed in female empowerment.
He would encourage his daughters to go to school to get educated. He would say that women in the past worked hard in their gardens to feed their family but today, a woman’s garden was her education. He even sent their mother (his wife) back to school where she graduated with a university degree.
He was a people person and a nationalist. He loved his people and his country.
Though he sent his children overseas to attend school, he always insisted that they return home to PNG to contribute in helping the people and building the nation.
His daughters are now all lawyers and contributing to their communities and the nation in big ways. Nina sits on the University of Goroka’s Audit Committee, the Eastern Highlands Hospital Board, as well as other boards. Mona Lisa and Joyce are lawyers.
They take up women’s causes and issues including the Lenita Legacy Foundation.
John’s son Malcolm couldn’t quite understand why his father would want to till the soil and plant bananas when he could easily afford to buy bags of them from the markets.
When he quizzed his dad about this, his father replied, “this is life son. This is what people do to survive.”
John was a renaissance man, who had an old soul, a bridge between the past and modern world.
Though he was exposed to the western culture and lived like a modern man, he still loved and lived the life of the past as well.
He was a faithful Seventh Day Adventist follower but at the same time embraced his culture. He was a politician and a successful business man but at the same time he was a family man.
He never stopped believing that people could rise up from the hardships of life and become successful. One of his dreams was to provide homes for ordinary Papua New Guineans. A home that any average Papua New Guinean could afford.
He believed that if people had a good home to live in, they would be healthy and more productive in everything they did.
Malcolm would ask him, “where is the profit in that?” But John would argue otherwise that money could be made on other money-making ventures. The building of affordable homes for ordinary people would remain a non-profit enterprise.
As the late John Giheno was growing older, his son, who was living in Australia, returned to PNG and established 2G Development, a company that provides affordable homes for local people. Malcolm fulfilled his father’s wishes and John became the Chairman of the 2GD board.
John was at peace in his heart for his dream had been achieved not only for his people but for his son too, who could now understand why his father was so passionate about fighting poverty.
Sadly, John died from a heart attack last Monday, March 20. He is survived by his wife, four children and three grandchildren.
By REBECCA KUKU