By Rev SEIK PITOI
ON Friday, April 26, 2019, two beautiful “flowers” from Fisherman Island or Daugo, which is off the coast of Port Moresby, blossomed.
The island, which is also called Moukele by the community of fishermen originally from Hula in the Central province, celebrated the achievements of two of their daughters who had graduated with degrees from the University of Papua New Guinea.
I had the opportunity to sit and chat over a cup of tea with a father of one of the girls recently. Keimelo Gima is a senior lecturer in the Humanities department at the university, while he serves on the island as a United Church deacon.
As an educationist, he was one of a group of parents who played a big part in the establishment of a school for the children on the island in the late 1980s.
“The school plays a big part in giving our children the initial education they need to qualify for secondary school which they will attend in certain high schools in the city. Our school caters for students from elementary to Grade 8,” he said. In his spare time, Keimelo often teaches reading classes for the children.
That day, the deacon-cum-academic had the joy of seeing his daughter, Cathy, graduate with a Batchelor of Arts degree with honours in Gender Studies. Having previously attained a graduate diploma from the University of Goroka in Secondary teaching, Cathy is currently employed as a research officer with the National Research Institute (NRI). Keimelo’s other children have also attained tertiary qualifications, while his sportsman son Gimapau Keimelo has excelled in cricket and rugby union.
The other “flower” is Gennie Repanama Augerea, a first cousin to Cathy. Gennie graduated with a Batchelor of Science degree in Chemistry. Her graduation brought tears to many of her family and friends because the most important person she would have wanted to witness this special day was not with her. The unfortunate passing of her father just a couple of months before her big day made for a rather sad occasion.
Her father, Repanama Augerea, a senior banker with the microfinance industry based in Kimbe, had suffered a massive heart attack last year in November. As he was recovering from that initial attack, he underwent another attack in December, necessitating a medical evacuation to Port Moresby. In January this year, he passed away.
He had told his daughter, whom he was always proud of, that he would make sure he was present when she received her award. Sadly, that was not to be.
I was privileged to get to know Gennie last year. As her chaplain in my first year in the post, I had tried to get acquainted with my United Church students throughout the year. However, due to study commitments and other reasons, not all students were faithful in attending service – except for Gennie.
Her commitment to the work of the Lord, and her support for our little congregation, was second to none. She did not take up a leadership position in our fellowship, however, her dedication far outshone those who had been voted in as leaders. In fact, when they all went AWOL partway through the year, Gennie remained steadfast, making sure to attend service and taking part in the activities of the church.
Last year, I had rostered two of our students to deliver the final sermons over the two remaining Sundays prior to school closure. Genie was one of them. She preached her message on the love of God and sang a beautiful Gospel song in her Hula language to complement her sermon.
That final exam week, my wife and I cooked a meal for her and dropped in to visit her as she and other students were in the library studying. She came out and we had a prayer with her and a couple of her colleagues in the car park before leaving them with their tray of food. That was the last time we saw Gennie. After exams, as all the students left for their homes, she too left. It was only a couple of months later that we were told by a fellow student of her father’s passing.
I had the honour of sitting in the VIP section on the morning of the graduation. This was because I was asked to offer a dedicatory prayer at the start of the graduation ceremony. Having done that, I was able to sit back and witness the students as they came forward to receive their awards. As Gennie came forward, a deep sense of sadness overcame me as I saw tears welling up in her eyes. Her father was not standing with her mother and her siblings as they applauded her! His presence was clearly missed. Nonetheless, Gennie and her cousin Cathy made the people of Moukele proud that day.
As we wound up our time together that morning in the UPNG Coffee Shop, Deacon Keimelo expressed his concern that while they had worked hard to establish the community school on the island some 30 odd years ago, not one student had graduated from university yet. He said they had a student get into University of Goroka but withdrew halfway through the first year.
Moreover, both Cathy and Gennie spent very little time on the island and are actually products of Gordon Secondary and Marienville Secondary Schools respectively. But being local Moukele girls, their graduation is still a bonus for the community.
In challenging the young people, elder Gima said: “I would like to see parents encouraging their children to take school seriously. We are fishermen and that is what our children are good at. During the bech-de-mer season, young boys can make K50 a day with no problem.
“They are more comfortable in the sea than sitting in a classroom. But that has to change. A good education will ensure their future is secure.”
On the achievements of the two girls, he urged the boys saying, “Come on, sons, we can do better. The girls are beating us. Let’s see which boy can go through the community school on the island and move on to graduate with a degree like Cathy and Gennie!”
I suppose the two girls have thrown down the gauntlet. The challenge is on the guys. I’d like to echo Deacon Gima’s call: “Come on, sons. We can do it!”
• Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.