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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Tuberculosis is a disease that has been all-but eradicated in most developed countries but it is still the world’s leading cause of death from a single infectious agent.

In 2018 an estimated 37,000 people in Papua New Guinea (PNG) had tuberculosis and more than 4,500 died.

It is one of only 14 countries classified as having the triple high burden of tuberculosis, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and tuberculosis/HIV.

Eradicating tuberculosis (TB) from PNG requires improvements in many sectors of society. Overcrowded housing settlements, a lack of education and poor diets all contribute to the spread of the disease.

Dr Daoni Eserom, the executive manager of public health at the National Department of Health, notes that poverty creates the conditions in which the disease can flourish.

He said: “We have a lot of settlements, a lot of unplanned housing and all of these are big contributors to TB.

“Malnutrition, especially in kids, is a very big contributor to TB. So is the ability of households to have the resources to actually seek access to healthcare when they’re sick.”

A view of the mountains, Rigo district, Central province, PNG.

To get tested for TB, people often have to travel to major urban centres. Once diagnosed, patients must follow a six-month course of four antibiotics.

Most people feel well soon after treatment begins, which can result in them not finishing the full course.

This has led to the rise of drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis that are deadlier and require more expensive treatment that can last up to 20 months.

Dr Daoni describes PNG’s ongoing battle with TB as a “war”.

Olve Ha, Head of Health Program in ChildFund Papua New Guinea

ChildFund PNG Health Programs Manager Olive Oa (pictured above) concurs, saying: “We are trying our best to control it. We are advocating at the highest levels and trying to mobilise as many resources as we can, but it’s still there.”

When Phillip Solomon walked into the classroom in 2018 his students could not read or write – and he was determined to change this.

Phillip (pictured below) is an elementary teacher at Ruatoka Elementary School in Rigo, Central Province – just an hour and a half drive from Port Moresby.

He started teaching after being selected by his community to attend an elementary teacher training at the PNG Education Institute in 2003. After three years of training, he returned home to Rigo to teach in Ruatoko Elementary.

With eight teachers and 189 students, Ruatoka Elementary is the largest school in Rigo. It teaches the standards-based curriculum in a mix of local languages including Sinagoro, Motu, Tok Pisin and English.

In January 2018, Ruatoka was selected to take part in the Together for Education (T4E) project supported through the Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership.

Phillip was among 40 teachers from 26 Rigo schools who attended the first teacher training in early 2018.

“He demonstrated enthusiasm, commitment and was an active participant during the training,” said Child Fund project coordinator Dulcie Wefin.

“His group presentation skills were outstanding, which earned himself a spot for further training as a resource teacher.”

He was also trained to use the tools of Peer Observation and Teacher Learning Circle, where resource teachers conduct school-based or cluster in-service training on identified areas for improvement.

An analysis conducted with support from former Ruatoka Elementary School teacher-in-charge Belline Kila identified reading problems as a key issue to address.

Belline said what was required was strengthening phonics, reducing language barriers, improving access to reading materials and merging of language and English syllabi to teach reading.

“Phillip organized a meeting with parents who identified the same issues.

He then created an action plan that pointed to staff meetings, peer observation, school assemblies, teacher learning circles and cluster in-service training ways to overcome the reading problem,” she said.

Phillip immediately started the teacher learning circles on phonics and assisted teachers with difficulty in phonics teaching.

Fellow teacher Barbara James was drawn to Philip’s style of teaching phonics.

“I fell in love with Phillip’s phonics teaching. I wanted to learn more so I would stand outside Phillip’s classroom to hear how he teaches phonics,” Barbara said.

Mr Phillip Solomon addresses a school assemble at Ruatoka Elementary School_compressed

Barbara also participated in the training program which provided a boost to her teaching skills and students’ academic performance.

“After observing and listening to how Phillip teaches phonics, I can now confidently teach phonics to my class,” said Barbara.

With support and commitment from the teachers at the school, reading has now been included as part of the school assembly.

While teaching at Makerupu Elementary in 2019, Phillip was rewarded for his performance with a promotion from base level teacher to head teacher.

In 2020 he was asked by the Rigo District Education Office to mentor teachers throughout the District.

Phillip works alongside the Central Provincial Elementary Coordinator and resource teachers from Launakalana to share knowledge about lesson planning and teach English or Language to improve literacy throughout Rigo.

“My students are now in elementary one and can confidently read simple sentences and comprehend,” he said.

A student from Mr Solomon’s class demonstrating his reading skills_compressed

“This is my success story and what makes me content at the end of the day.”

Phillip is training teachers on effective teaching and learning strategies to improve elementary children’s reading skills.

T4E aims to improve literacy and numeracy of early grade learners in Central, Morobe and Madang provinces.

The project involves collaboration from the National Department of Education, provincial education divisions, church education agencies and schools and communities in the areas where this project is present.

The project is delivered by World Vision and its partners ChildFund, the Consultative Implementation & Monitoring Council, Library For All Australia and the University of Canberra.