To Madang with Japanese friends

Students at Boregaina Primary School in Rigo, Central testing out their new water taps funded by the Japanese government and facilitated by Unicef under their Wash project.

IT was Tuesday, March 22, my Cassian’s seventh birthday that I took my first duty travel. It was to Madang which I wished was to Vanimo instead.
Coincidently, the day was also marked my three months of working in the “big red house” at Waigani.
I woke up at 5am not with excitement but sadness as I grabbed my bag and headed for the airport to catch the flight to Madang with the team from the Japanese embassy.
At the check-in counter, Allan Eko from the embassy was standing in front of me but little did I know I did I know that we were going on the same flight to Madang.
Few minutes after standing at the check-in counter, along come the rest of the delegation from the Japanese embassy who would be joining us for the tour of Madang. I was so impressed by the warm hospitality by Donalyn and Satoshi who were very enthusiastic and curious as we walked into the boarding lounge.
Allan, the nice guy, gave me a merchandised Jica mask and told me that he had travelled to Madang so many times and this trip would be his 19th. I introduced myself as a young reporter and obviously from Sepik.
By 7am we boarded PX110 to Madang and arrived at Madang airport at 8am to a warm welcome by the officers of Madang Provincial Administration.
There were two policemen who escorted the media team in a 10-seater vehicle and off we went to the Madang Resort Hotel. I was excited as we drove along the Modilon Road down to Kasagten Road with a feeling of home-coming to my sweet home, Beautiful Madang. We checked in at the Madang Resort and by 9am the tours began.
The media was a reporter and cameraman from NBC in Port Moresby and a reporter from Post Courier in Lae and yours truly. They were all known media colleagues and I was so hyped up to tag along with them.
The Madang main market was my favorite place to visit every time I am in Madang. And sure enough, that was the first site we visited that morning.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) team led by Ambassador Nobuyuki Watanabe along the members of the Madang Provincial Administration and the media team had a 30-minute visit to the main market and the fish market. Both facilities were funded by the Japanese government and since their establishment in 2016, the people of Madang have been benefitting from them by selling their local produce.
I had a good chat with few of the vendors and they happily told me that the main market and fish market have helped them to sustain their livelihood. I asked the town market manager if they did collect market fees from the vendors and he said yes.

Ruth Walter, a Grade 6 students at Kil Primary School in Madang’s South Coast fetching water from one of the two tanks donated by the Japanese government through its grassroots programme.

“The highlanders sitting on the benches are charged K5 while the coastal people who sit outside on the concrete pavements pay K3,” he told me.
I was saddened by the fact that locals from Madang sit under the hot sun while the others sit comfortably under the building. I thought the market facility was built to serve the interest of the locals but that is not entirely so.
The Madang town market was rehabilitated to contribute to the sustainable economic development of the Madang region by providing an environment where agricultural and fishery products can be hygienically and efficiently distributed. The total cost of the project was K26 million from the Japanese scheme grant aid.
By 10am we went to visit the rice mill at the Department of Agriculture and Livestock premises. The local rice farmers were all happy to explain how they grew and milled rice with the introduction of their locally grown ‘Marasin’ rice.
Rice is one of the important staple foods in Papua New Guinea. However, large quantities of rice are imported annually, while domestic production is limited. Imported rice is expensive for ordinary people, especially subsistence farmers in rural areas.
An official from the Department of Agriculture and Livestock in Madang assured the local rice farmers that there was land in the Middle Ramu District and the department was carrying out a feasibility study for rice farming with funding of K2 million by the Madang Provincial Administration. To my amazement, I found out from Ambassador Watanabe that the project (phase one and two) for the promotion of smallholder rice production cost approximately K19.2million.
“The first phase of the project was from December 2002 to November 2008 and cost about K11.2 million while the second phase from December 2011 to November 2015 cost approximately K8 million. The targeted provinces that benefitted from the project were East Sepik, Madang, Milne Bay and Manus,” he said.
Ambassador Watanabe told me that the project was for smallholder rice farmers to expand their production by applying and improving the model farm approach and its support system to the targeted province.
“Sustainable subsistence rice farming is practiced by smallholders by developing and applying the support system for model farmers,” he said.
The main activities involved in the projects were training of the model farmers, establishment of the model milling center, training of operators of the milling machine and development of manual on operation and maintenance of the milling machines and distribution of seeds.
The visit was brief but so many emotions of gratitude and appreciation were shown by the local rice farmers in Madang.
By 2pm, the media team and the team from the Japanese Embassy visited the Modilon General Hospital now managed by the Madang Provincial Health Authority.
Hospital Chief Executive officer Fidelis Waipma warmly welcomed Ambassador Watanabe and all his delegates into the conference room for a discussion about hospital projects that were funded by the Japanese government. We had the opportunity to visit all the Japanese-funded facilities within the vicinity of the hospital.
I was very impressed when Ambassador Watanabe announced that the government of Japan has contributed approximately K12million to Unicef in Papua New Guinea to help strengthen the vaccine cold chain and the logistics capacity in support of the country’s corona virus response efforts.
Watanabe said up to 298 health facilities in the country were now benefitting from this contribution that will help support vital monitoring aspects of the cold chain equipment required to safely to store Covid-19 vaccines.
“The monitoring system will also be useful in the long run for supporting routine immunisation programmes by helping prevent essential vaccines for children in the country running out,” he said.
He said provincial health authorities and health facilities in 17 provinces in the country would benefit from this contribution and pecifically, the funding will contribute to:

  • Procurements, supply and installation of 298 remote temperature monitoring devices and their related infrastructure;
  • 84 vaccine carriers for use during outreach immunisation activities for hard-to-reach areas;
  • Training of about 1,000 health workers on the use, care, management and monitoring of this essential cold chair equipment; and
  • Procurement of 30 vehicles to support and improve immunisation through mobile and outreach clinics and distribution of vaccines to communities.

The following day was Wednesday and the second day of the Japanese Embassy tour in Madang. I woke up early and enjoyed the breath-taking sea-view out to Kranget Island with a lovely breakfast from the friendly staff at Madang Resort.
Off we went for the day’s tour beginning at 10am when we visited the Department of Works and Highways in Madang.
I met Works Manager Henry Rakuasi and we had a good chat. He was a known father figure; I grew up in his eyes in Vanimo when he was working there as a senior civil engineer.
I asked him about the six heavy machineries that were funded by the Japanese Government and he said the Department of Works and Highways in Madang would use them to fix roads within Madang town and other feeder roads.
From the Works office in town, we had a long bumpy ride out of town to Madang’s South Coast for Kil Primary School.
It was a two-hour drive on a 20km stretch of road that was created by the Works engineers few days earlier before the visit of Ambassador Watanabe to Madang. You can see the evidence of the orange clay indicating that the road had been graded recently.
The ambassador said this was one of the worst roads that he has ever travelled on since he came to Papua New Guinea.
I was thinking, “no, you have not travel the worst roads in this country yet!”
There, we met friendly students and their teachers who were all ready to welcome us with a tradition dance. I was amazed at how the school was located with the bad geographical location with mountainous range but still students went there to get education without any complaints.
The first Japanese funded classrooms, there were built on the valley and the new ones were built on the mountain along with the new library and the installation of new tanks.
I was told by Grade 5 student, Elisha Adrian that the Japanese Government has also funded new mathematics and science textbooks and also new chairs and tables that they can sit and learn in classrooms.
The programme at Kil Primary School went on for two hours with the traditional dancing performance by students and also bilums were given as gifts to the delegates. We had a big feast with locally cooked dishes and later headed back to town by 3pm.
By 7pm, the media team and the delegates from the Japanese Embassy had a farewell dinner at the Madang Resort.
Ambassador Watanabe and his colleague Satoshi asked each of the members of the media team for a short evaluation about the two-day tour in Madang visiting the Japanese established sites.
With mixed emotions, I told them that I loved the Madang market but the best site in our visit was Kil Primary School.
There were several reasons.
The students and teachers showed that they appreciated the infrastructure that built to serve the future of the children in a rural community.
The parents of the students attending Kil Primary School were very emotional when thanking the delegates from the Japanese embassy.
Students and teachers were very happy when speaking about the new tanks, which they said save them from washing and drinking from the nearby creeks and contracting diseases.
The new text books, chairs and tables would now improve their standard of education unlike before while the books in the new library would imporved their learning.
We asked so many questions of Ambassador Watanabe and he answered with so much pleasure.
One important take away from that night was when Ambassador Watanabe said, “In Japan journalists are well-paid and well-taken care of”.
That hit me and Janet Kari, the former reporter for Post Courier Lae quite hard.
The following morning was Thursday and we had to wake up early to board the first flight out of Madang Airport by 7am. I woke up with so much sadness and updated a Whatsapp status “So close yet so faraway; uh mum, Rocky, Powie and Lau.” Only the people close to me would understand this.
By 9am, we were already at Jackson Airport and the trip to Rigo, Central began after we landed. I slept during the three hour-drive until we reached Boregaina Primary School in Rigo.
We were welcomed by traditional dancers at the school entrance and went into where the Wash facilities were. It was a short visit as everyone in the travelling team were drained from the two-day tour in Madang.
There was a ribbon cutting and short speeches of appreciation by the school head teacher, the head girl and the Unicef representatives.
Then we retured to the city.
What an exciting two-day tour for a newbie!
Until then, where next in Central, I mean Papua New Guinea?