Walium’s winning women

Weekender

By ELLEN TIAMU
OWNING a guest house can be a challenge, especially if financial means and other resources are not aplenty, and even if family matters are a sore issue.
But two women, who own the only guest houses in Walium in Madanga re not letting anything stand in their way.
Stop any time at Walium along the Madang-Lae highway and you are sure to find Vero Mandawe and Lyn Kurame. The two are not only known locally for their businesses but also for the time they spend supporting various community projects.
Walium government station in Madang is an hour away from Ramu Agri Industries or Ramu Sugar as many know it.
That is where KKP Guest House owned by Vero Mandawe stands. She and her husband Bonny were the first to set up a guest house in the Usino-Bundi district but that didn’t come easy.
Mandawe, now in her 50s married young in 1987 just as she was starting Grade 5 on Manam Island where she was living with one of her sisters and her family.
That year she moved to Port Moresby to be with her husband who was employed at a major hotel in the city.
After a few months the couple returned to Madang where the husband took up a new job.
In 2004 and with five children now in tow, Mandawe and her husband returned home to Walium and bought a plot of government land. They had operated several businesses in Lae before that.
Speaking in Tok Pisin she described Walium then as “a place with nothing much apart from the police station and hospital. There were no businesses there as yet,”
For a year or so family life there was fine in the modest house they built.
But soon the complaints started. The children were tired of eating the cheaper on the wallet garden food and money was fast running out.
Down to her last K80, Mandawe had to decide between spending the money on food or on something that would make money.
She decided on the latter and was soon selling losse razor blades, band aid strips, chewing gum and bilum wool. From there, the market stock quickly grew to include rice and tinned fish and business was certainly flourishing.
In no time, her husband built a trade store into the side of their house so that his wife could now sell from home instead of the market.
Being the only shop at the station, they could only but grow bigger. Frozen goods and beer were soon selling from their outlet.
As soon as they had enough money, the couple purchased a car and bought truckloads of gravel, cement and timber to put up a proper shop building with proper shelves. A power generator set was also installed. After all that was done though, they again found themselves out of pocket.
For nearly six months the store was without stock and that didn’t go unnoticed by Mandawe’s businessman brother Thaddeus Yapoi during his visits from Lae.
On the second visit he requested that his sister and her husband to pay him a visit where he handed them a signed cheque for K10,000. Not only that, he bought them a two-tonne truck the same day so they could load their store goods and return to Walium. With the store now back up and running and making to the tune of K15,000 a day, there was no looking back.
Kurumbukari mine was setting up in Usino-Bundi in 2006 and the Walium was seeing a steady growth in population. That was nothing short of good news for Mandawe and her family. Her philantrophic brother gave her another car while she herself managed to purchase several more vehicles.
In 2007 work began on her guest house which now boasts 20 rooms and a conference room. Two backup generator sets don’t allow for blackouts and bore water is available whenever the town’s water taps run dry. Main guests at KKP are public servants, World Vision staff and PNG Power and Telikom workers.
She employs a total of seven staff, three of whom work at the guest house. With the assistance of Kumura Foundation, a Usino-Bundi-based CBO group, Mandawe hopes to market her businesses throughout the country, and world even.
In 2015 she established a security firm which now has business in Madang and Walium.
All throughout her years as an aspiring businesswoman Mandawe has had marital problems and has been badly scarred by these. But as a strong Christian, she has risen above the mess and tries to return bad with good.
Her biggest regret is that she wasn’t able to make it through to high school or further. She owes her success to God, she says.
“Mi no wanpla save meri tasol God i gutpla long mi,” she said.
Her message to other women struggling through marital problems, to stand firm in God and to persevere in whatever business venture they want to pursue.
Lyn Kurame, on the other hand has her husband Edward Kurame to thank for their guest house.
She hails from the Enga while Edward is a local Bundi man, as well as a close relative of the Mandawes.
The Kurames returned to Walium in 2007 where they purchased a block of land. In 2013 they obtained a piece of prime government land and wasted no time constructing a guest house. Due to financial constraints, it took nearly three years to complete.
There is no animosity between the two teams as they work to share guests that land in their part of the woods from time to time.
Edward Kurame has held senior positions in public service and private firms. He is currently the chairman of the board of Kurumbukari Ltd.
He has no qualms about sharing the management of their eight-room abode with his wife.
Visitors to Walium and Usino-Bundi district are inconsistent and few and far between at the moment but Edward is confident of business picking up as soon as the Marengo mine comes on stream and brings with it greater potential and benefits for the area.
There are other large projects touted for Walium in the immediate future such as the construction of a new hospital and a new stadium which will, of course, fill the guest houses to capacity.
The Kurames are not only intent on building their business but have an overriding desire to “grow the district and grow the sons and daughters of the district.”
In a laid back and out of the way place such as Walium there has to be much activity so that businesses such as guest houses can flourish.
The clouds with silver linings are, undoubtedly, about to descend on Usino-Bundi and Lyn Kurame and Vero Mandawe are both set to reap the benefits.

  •  The writer is a freelance journalist.

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