AFTER 42 years, Ruby Zarriga was farewelled by the Department of National Planning and Monitoring on Friday.
A mother of two, Zarriga had worked for 32 years with the department having spent the first 12 years with Community Development while attending the University of Papua New Guinea.
Born in New Hanover, at the tip of New Ireland, Zarriga always loved learning. As soon as she could walk, she would wander up the road to the local school and sit quietly at the back of the classroom.
One of her primary school teachers, Nancy Anderson, spotted her potential and to broaden her experience invited her for a holiday in Warrigul, Victoria.
She remembers helping Anderson’s mum with “meals on wheels”.
“I don’t know what the locals would have made of me,” Zarriga said, “the only English words I knew were “Yes” and “No”.
Zarriga’s passion for learning continued through secondary school and university. In 1987 she gained her Bachelor of Arts in social work from the University of PNG and joined the Public Service. She worked across a range of government departments, mainly in areas of welfare, community planning and training.
Her oldest daughter Miriam said when her mum worked late nights, the household waited for her to finish work.
“Growing up, we always knew mum was a busy woman, our dad would pick us up from school and instead of going home to Gerehu, we would park our car at the car park of the Central Government Office, where mum worked and wait for her,” she recalled.
“Unlike other workers, my mum always came out at 5pm without fail, she knew we would be waiting for her.
“When the department was formed, and the office was moved to Vulupindi, my sister and I would run up, high five the guards and make our way to the third floor, where all our pictures lined my mum’s desk.
“I had to become both mother and father. I didn’t realise what this would mean, certainly not how hard it would be. I really wasn’t prepared to look after two teenage girls on my own and yet, at the same time, I felt compelled to get the most out of my studies at university. Somehow I had to find the balance between guiding and nurturing my daughters and getting on with my studies.”
“When it was the Budget month, we knew it would be long nights for all of us. My mum sometimes would not come home till her work was completed.
“My mum would be at home in the morning, say “hi” to us, give us lunch money and then we wouldn’t see her till 3am or 4am in the morning, she would rest for an hour or so and then she was back at the office.”
In 2002, Zarriga’s husband, Rev Megghen Zarriga, was fatally shot – a victim of random street violence. He was taking their youngest daughter to high school in Port Moresby. It was her first day.
“I had to become both mother and father. I didn’t realise what this would mean, certainly not how hard it would be,” Zarriga said.
“I really wasn’t prepared for looking after two teenage girls on my own and yet, at the same time, I felt compelled to get the most out of my studies at university. Somehow I had to find the balance between guiding and nurturing my daughters and getting on with my studies.”
Not only did Zarriga achieve a Masters in management from the Australian National University, she returned to the Department and took up the position of first assistant secretary, Sectorial Planning and Programming Division. She oversaw all development assistance programmes across sectors and agencies in 2005.
She worked her way up and became the deputy secretary-Policy. As the Government changed, continued to work.
She eventually became acting secretary for the department – one of the few women to be acting in the role in 2010 to 2011.
Before leaving the department, Zarriga told the officers in the department to “work hard and ensure all work is done before you go home”.