Stories

Vanuamai is a small village. Maybe 200 people. It’s in Central Province, Papua New Guinea, about two hours or more from Port Moresby. It should be closer but for the first hour out of Moresby, the Hiritano Highway is rough and deeply pot-holed. You need a 4WD.

Once across the Angabunga River, you can enjoy the well-sealed road through the Doa rubber plantation to Agaivaro. Then take a left-hand turn off the Highway and the narrow track to the village truly tests the capabilities of your vehicle.

Vanuamai Elementary School is on top of the hill – a little removed from the village, with the primary school close by. The school is like dozens of other elementary schools that I have stood in, all around Papua New Guinea.

The walls and roof are a mix of tin sheets and bush materials, an open doorway, open window frames, and a knee-high gap between the bottom of the walls and the earth floor. It’s airy. There are desks too. In most elementary schools, children sit on the floor.

Elementary teachers in PNG have (perhaps) Grade 10-level education, very little training and no resources to teach English which, at best, is their third language (after Tok Ples and Tok Pisin). It is not surprising that most children entering Grade 3 cannot read or write.

These children spend three years in elementary school (Prep, Grades One and Two) and Grade 3 teachers have to ‘start again’ and teach basic literacy skills. But in Vanuamai Elementary School, that is changing. Thanks to ChildFund.

I sat at the back of the Elementary 1 class. The teacher, Mr Francis Oa, smiled and introduced me to his students as ‘the author’ of their books: Mr Ray from Bilum Books. The class sang  ‘Welcome Mr Ray’ in unison. There were about 20 students, a smaller class than most in PNG.

Elementary Schools, especially in urban areas, have enrolments of 60 and 70 and higher (per class) at each Grade level. Sometimes with three and four classes of that size per Grade level.

Mr Oa began his lesson: Term 3 Week 10. A one-hour lesson teaching English. He began with ‘Speaking and listening’. He had written the poem Off to Market on butcher paper:

With Christmas around the corner, we’re interviewing ChildFund supporters to find out what the festive season means to them and what motivates them to buy Gifts for Good.

For Carol Vleeskens the perfect Christmas gift is one that’s meaningful for both the donor and the recipient, and benefits the wider community.

Every year for the past nine years, the New South Wales resident has bought her Christmas presents from ChildFund’s Gifts for Good catalogue, which supports disadvantaged children and families around the world.

Among the gifts she’s purchased are solar lamps for children living in homes without electricity, ducks for families, and study sets and sports equipment for children.

Giving Gifts for Good is about sharing a part of herself with her loved ones, says Carol. Social justice is an area close to her heart and she has had a long history working with NGOs in the areas of social welfare and child protection.

“When I first started buying Gifts for Good I was looking for opportunities to support charities in a way that I felt like I could share with people around me that I was passionate about a particular cause,” she says.

It’s about “stirring the social justice gene”, says Carol, and she hopes the Gifts for Good her friends and family receive inspire them to help disadvantaged communities.

“It’s about getting people to recognise that ‘things’ aren’t important as we live in an amazingly privileged country and time, and there are many people who don’t have the same opportunities,” she says.

Each Gift for Good she buys has been carefully considered. She makes sure the gifts align with the recipients’ personalities or interests.

“I will try and match the gift to the person,” Carol says. “For example, I have a friend who works in public health so I gave her the gift that provides children with mosquito nets.”

“If I know someone who is a really good leader in their community, I’ll give them a gift that’s about empowering children and youth to become leaders in their community.

“If I know someone who is passionate about gardening I might give them one about seeds or trees.”

In addition to being an expression of her values and having meaning for her friends and family, buying Gifts for Good is easy.

“Gifts for good is fantastic because I don’t have to think!” Carol says. “I don’t have to go to the shops and spend time thinking about what someone has or doesn’t have, or if something is in their colour scheme. I don’t have to don’t do any of that.”

Carol buys Gifts for Good a couple of times a year and gives them as Christmas and birthday presents.

“I buy a whole heap and keep the Gifts for Good cards in my cupboards because don’t go off and get eaten like my chocolates!”