Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Literacy projects and rural politics

A gathering of clergy and participants of the Anuki Literacy Project at the launching of their work at Woruka village, in the Cape Vogel area of the Milne Bay province. Photo by Tuula Kaija of the VITAL office, Alotau.
On 27th December, 1995, at Bogaboga village, a little boy of about 12 years old kept stalking storyboard, waiting for an opportunity to speak to him.

It was St John’s Day and the village was abuzz with celebrations in honour of the patron saint, starting off with an early morning Mass, followed by a wedding, and later some sports and associated cultural activities that culminated in the observation of a large feast to which came the four main compounds of Bogaboga, namely, Kibirisi, Yarogu, Garogaro and Kopara.

For the whole day the boy had no luck, as storyboard was always in the company of the elders of the Yarogu compound who were also hosts to his family.

It was not that storyboard was rich or famous to make that number of people want to talk to him. It was rather the people’s desire to know more about all that was happening in our country, by way of development, new trends in government policy that affected the rural populations in one way or another, and so on.

Of course, storyboard never had sufficient answers to give to all that was asked of him. What mattered there and then was that the people were genuinely interested in knowing more about what goes on at Waigani and the world at large. Above all, the fact that places such as Bogaboga remain even today as isolated as any of the neighbouring villages of that region of the Milne Bay province, becomes a kind of concern for everyone.

How can we, whether outsiders or natives of such remote areas ever succeed in bringing development to this corner of our country? And where is there an MP, whether from that area or from the resource rich regions of the Highlands and the New Guinea mainland as much as the Islands, ever able to part with just one morsel from the “nation’s dinner table” for the people of Bogaboga and the surrounding villages?

But they, the villagers, seem to know more about our activities in Port Moresby than we them. It was on this day, for example, that storyboard heard a funny story about a certain “politician” called John Kaniku who, having exhausted himself after a long walk of campaigning along the beach lay on the nearest veranda of Yarogu and asked: “Does anyone here know a man called Russell Soaba?”

In response to this, the women preparing tea for him, chorused: “Why, you are sleeping on his veranda. This is his wife’s village.”

That is to say that politics observed at rural level would only be beginning to seep in then. People became familiar about names that were heard over the radio and which they had scantily read about in the newspapers, but it would have been all the more better if these so-called famous names occasioned to drop by at such places like Kaniku at one time or another. Then the villagers would ask as many questions as they would quite to their hearts’ content.

Aside from such questionings there was often felt all around that such isolated places would be in dire need of information and there would be, apart from radio broadcasts, little chance of gaining these sufficiently. While other parts of the country became used to seeing development at large scale such as roads, transport systems, various projects in agriculture – these areas lacked them. Hence, the need there was to ask the storyboard so many questions and hope to be informed.

At least, as the day wore on that day, that seemed to have been the predominant sentiment directed at the storyboard – to which there were no pet answers made readily available. But they were all genuine questions that needed answers.

The next day, in order to avoid large crowds, storyboard woke up at 5am to go the toilets, built over the sea and away from the compounds. Afterwards and as he came down the platform to jump ashore, he was confronted by the twelve year-old previously stalking him. He was taken aback a little in the half-light of the morning, but upon close examination he realized the boy was from Pem, the same area storyboard comes from. The boy was in tattered garments which were secured by what looked like a strand of bush vines.

“How?” asked storyboard.

The boy moved forward and, as if to avoid anyone overhearing him, said: “When you go back to Port Moresby, can you ask my brothers to send me some clothes?”

“Of course,” said storyboard. “But come with me first.”

Back at the Yarogu compound storyboard gathered what he could of two of his boy’s clothing for they were about the same age and gave them to the boy. Then he forgot all about that encounter.

Fifteen years later, when storyboard went back for a book launch of the Anuki Literacy Project at Woruka (July 25, 2010), he came across the same boy, now a man and married with a couple of children. But it was not the same boy he met at Bogaboga. This one had changed so much and had quite a following in the village that storyboard could not help but become simply fascinated.

Perhaps it is well that things should turn out that way.

But what came to storyboard’s mind then was that no community project – literacy, translation, health or other – operates without some degree of influence from even those who are not directly involved in these projects. A certain degree of politics plays a part in these projects as well. So then, the type of questions storyboard was receiving now, in the year 2010, and away from Bogaboga of 1995, had a lot to do with what you have done for your area. What development have you brought? In time storyboard became no longer a simple writer witnessing a literacy project launching at home but rather a Parliamentarian from Waigani come to visit his electorate. And neither was he that man who once gave his children’s clothes away to someone who needed them most.

On Monday morning, July 26, when getting ready to leave Woruka, a cousin of our 1995 prodigy met at Bogaboga and perhaps with his prompting, told the storyboard: “Come; let me take your bag down to the dinghy. They are loading and we are set to travel.” Five hours later, when landing at Awaiama, and when the entire luggage was unloaded from the dinghy, storyboard’s bag was missing.