Fairly close to Australia as the crow flies but light years away in terms of real development, Tapini….only 1/2 hour flying time from Port Moresby but is located in a remote mountainous area and is one of the poorest parts of all PNG.
To put it mildly, life is interesting. It's the Goilala District a tribe with a long reputation for its fighting, cheating and violence. You'd never really know as they are very happy-go-lucky, friendly people but beneath this they steal anything given the opportunity and lie without blinking an eyelid.
No birds in the area anything that moves is killed and eaten. They are lazy and love their sleep inherent in their culture. They are subsistence farmers and their plots of land dominate their lives. Kau kau (a sweet potato) is their staple food. They live for the present…"eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die ".
The longer you stay here the more you realize not to be surprised by anything. One student who started the year in grade 10 is now in jail for murder; another year 8 boy being held as a murder suspect. My best year 9 English student was expelled for raping a primary school girl...I could go on! Despite all that I feel safe...just a matter of getting my head around how they function/think/live.
Everyone is unanimous that the country is going backwards...corruption is rife at all levels particularly at high government levels. Port Moresby is a dirty place, full of criminals and a mecca for the unemployed. Having said this there are some pluses. Their friendly nature is magnificent; the way they care for wantoks (family and friends) is amazing; rarely do you hear a cross word amongst the students….terribly patient and tolerant.
Their care for family members has to be seen to be believed. Only about 40% of the young people receive any education at all. Those that do, see themselves as "made", which is rather sad because they really have little idea about education and study. Educating them is a real challenge. About 10 students each year go on to further education at year 11 and 12 at neighbouring secondary schools .
Sacred Heart High at Tapini caters for grades 7-10 and has 170 boarders and 50 day students. Tapini is the centre of the marijuana growing in PNG and is illegally cultivated as a cash crop. The students depend on it to pay their school fees...so they hoof off to Port Moresby, sell it and they have their school fees for the year.
Communication is a challenge have to find a courier to take a letter to Pt Moresby for postage, we have regular blackouts and no phone lies since July so no phones or emails. What has happened in the cricket???? One has to have patience, understanding and a sense of humour. No one gets married here...a young girl and guy just go off into the bush, have sex and so they become a couple…..married….so easy. No one dies….they are always 'killed' by someone. The 'Someone' responsible for the death is usually the one who doesn't grieve enough at the burial. Sorcery is believed in and widely practiced.
I'd like to thank the Rotary club for their donation to PALMS in 2008. When you take on a venture like this any form of assistance is welcomed. The year here in Tapini has been very topsy-turvy with conflict between the Head Master and the board of governor's Chairman which has been extremely disruptive for the school. 2009 looks much better. It is comforting to have some contact with Australia and any funding provided, I can assure you, is well spent.