‘Pray for the students as they do their Written Expression exam next Thursday. The papers haven't arrived here yet and they are all a bit nervous that they won't understand the questions and write off the topic!’ teacher-missionary Glenda Giles shared on Facebook, just five days before the actual date of this year’s Grade 10 Written Expression exam. The exam papers needed to be delivered to Tekin by air from the National Department of Education in Port Moresby. Last year they were flown in by MAF.
Simple building, exceptional students
Oksapmin High school in Tekin is a basic construction; mud floors and grass matting on the walls and roof. Like many schools across PNG, it is understaffed with crowded classrooms, and minimal resources. Glenda shared an image of her class of 69 grade 9 enthusiastic students crammed into her classroom back in February. Yet many of the school’s 120 students out-perform those enrolled in the most prestigious colleges in PNG. Oksapmin has consistently been in the top 10 schools in PNG for performance, coming fifth in 2016.
The opportunities these students have today are thanks in large part to the schools founder, New Zealander Glenda, who recently celebrated her 75th Birthday and marked her 50th year serving in Papua New Guinea.
Oksapmin, opened its doors ten years ago and is the fourth high school Glenda has established since 1976 when she switched her ministry focus from Bible translation to education. More than forty years later Glenda is still going strong with a passion to educate another generation for a better Papua New Guinea. Hundreds of students have worked hard to create opportunities for themselves, benefiting from Glenda’s passion and dedicated support up to grade 10.
If the aeroplanes had never come
The most recent assignment the students received from their beloved teacher as they waited nervously for their exams was to write an essay reflecting on the difference that aircraft had made to their remote way of life. The title they were set - If the aeroplanes had never come…
‘My home valley is on the Northern side of a craggy mountain and that craggy mountain is found in Tekin Valley’ wrote a student called Glen. ‘The airline that helps people in the Tekin Valley is MAF and the small Airvan plane. The airline brings in business men’s cargo, sick patients and takes out the vegetables we send to other places and it brings pastors in and out too.’
‘I think if aeroplanes had never come to our valley most of the businesses would close down… Most of the people in this valley would never earn money… I think my family and community would face a lot of suffering. My body would be trembling with fear if no aeroplanes landing in our valley…when there is a crisis it goes back to normal when the aeroplanes bring people to help us.’
Another grade ten student Nasep wrote that ‘if there had been no aeroplanes coming to my valley from the past until now, I think I would not have a good living standard today. I would be a someone who does not know how anything works…My family, my clan and I would be living in the dark stage without a single glimmer of light…I would be living without basic services. I would be struggling harder and harder wearily carrying my brim-full bag of kaukau [sweet potatoes] from one end of the valley to the other.’
Let the exams commence…
In the end, the exam papers did arrive in time and the students’ essay writing practice paid off. A pastor took the sealed box by public transport from Tabubil to Kiunga and Glenda reported that the exams went well. The students could choose between two topics, to write a story where they were the hero or heroine or discuss if politicians should buy their votes. With the national election just around the corner, the latter title was topical.
Exam success will mean the student can progress with their education – moving on the other schools to complete grades 11 and 12 later in the year. In January 2017, aircraft flew more than 30 students to new schools within the Sandaun province.
‘MAF’s aircraft based in Telefomin have been a tremendous help with these movements’ explained Glenda, keen to highlight how MAF allows connections can be maintained between the children and their home villages. ‘None of the parents like planes swooping in and taking their kids away, but they know they are in safe hands and if emergencies occur it will be possible to go to them or have them flown back home.’