Friday, January 27, 2012

Children of the tide and the seasons


Do you remember our story of November last year (Lahara’s poetic stance 11/11/11)? It became one of the popular storyboard articles for the pre-Christmas/New Year holiday season.

A week ago storyboard felt saddened to see the two little ones stricken with malaria after being away at the village for the holiday season. Yet their story was about helping their parents to sell fruit and that meant sitting all day at a particular spot, waiting for customers.

In fact, that story wouldn’t have been popular without these two. So storyboard sent his daughters and granddaughters to go visit them with noodles and a packet of rice and bully beef, as a way of delaying the effects of malaria a bit before they could go to the clinic the following Monday.

Something else there is that needs to be told about such children. They go wherever we go as parents, do whatever we do, because we are their living examples of what they will become eventually. We must consider ourselves fortunate too that free education has now reached our door steps again since of course the times of the pre-independence era when all was indeed free. They are now able to go to school without the parents having to worry about how much they will struggle to sell by way of garden produce in order to raise funds for school fees.

And now that all is free how relieving it is to cast an eye across the landscape and see that these children are indeed enjoying themselves. And we must seriously ask, can school these days be more enjoyable than those previous years of struggle, both for parents and children.
Such questions are best answered for us by good people like Ms Wari Karona and her kind assistants Ms Rhonda Michael and Joseph Poe. These three are just a few of those who take care of the new and popular idea in child literacy projects called Buk Bilong Pikinini (Children’s Libraries).

The idea was initiated and established in 2007 by Anne-Sophie Hermann, wife of former Australian High Commissioner to PNG (2006-2009), Chris Moraitis. Since then altogether 8 libraries were set up within the National Capital District, including the ones in Lae and Goroka.
Ms Karona advised storyboard that another such library will be set up in Alotau town shortly this year.

Sponsorship to the establishment of these little libraries comes from various organizations within and outside the country. The one at the Waigani campus run by Ms Karona’s team was sponsored by Hastings Deering and Oxford University Press. This little matchbox looking library caters for the Waigani, Morata, Gerehu, Rainbow and Ensisi Valley suburbs and settlements. 
Barely has the school year started and the sight of children running around at 10 o’clock recess is exhilarating, evidence of the notion that they are indeed enjoying themselves. Ms Karona states that the trick to all this lies in the careful management of phonics, particularly in the minds of four to seven year-olds. Children learn to recognize printed words through sounds. And they catch on faster than in a class room environment.

Ms Karona, herself a great story-teller as storyboard discovered, told of how a 9 year-old hated school so much he stayed at home and didn’t want to have anything to do with books. Even at that age he could not read the alphabet. This in turn became self-inhibiting somewhat, and the parents feared he would miss out on school totally. So they approached the Waigani campus Buk Bilong Pikinini library in late August last year. The result? By October he was not just able to recite the alphabet but read a whole book as well. From then on he told his parents not to worry so much about him; he had many friends, he was actually enjoying “school”. This year he will start school at the Karr Memorial Primary School just like any other continuing student.

When the organizers of these little libraries approached Professor Ross Hynes last year, the VC welcomed them warmly. A space was allocated next to the University Chapel, and today the little library stands securely at a convenient spot for mothers bringing in their children from the surrounding suburbs and settlements. It’s a grand idea, this. It places the child on a firmer footing before actually starting school.

The library opens two times a day. It caters for the 4 to 7 year-olds from 8 to 12 noon, and for those of school age from elementary up at 1 to 4 in the afternoon. All the necessary guidance or tuition given the child is free of charge.

Elsewhere in the world we can only wonder if children of such generations benefit similarly. But all that is yet another story to tell. For the moment we can be content with the idea that these children are indeed there for all seasons.

The tide comes in and recedes, as do the seasons, and these children likewise grow up to be men and women, from which point they look back, as do we all, and sigh, “We learn when we are old.”