Part 1:
A Dialogue Exercise by Grade 11 students of the Oksapmin Secondary School at Tekin

Story by Mandy Glass

A Community Investing in Education
MAF has a well-established relationship with the Oksapmin Secondary School at Tekin, which now operates in its 13th year. The students regularly achieve top marks and are some of the smartest within the whole country. For years, the students graduating from a primary school in the area had to leave their remote valley for towns like Wewak, Aitape, Vanimo or Telefomin to attend a high school. Growing up so remotely and then leaving home at a fairly young age either for boarding school or to stay with relatives for the whole school year and with minimal means of communications, the young students often struggled. Sending their children away also meant that school fees and logistics were other major challenges to overcome for the families in the Oksapmin Valley. Therefore, they pleaded for the establishment of a high school in their valley, so their children could finish at least grade 9 and 10 and also grow more mature before flying out to the “big cities” to complete grade 11 and 12.

Tekin, the red dot on the map

The Oksapmin Valley communities heard about the Green River High School, established by Glenda Giles, a New Zealander and missionary at heart. Green River High School, Sandaun Province, was already the third high school that Miss Glenda, as she gets called by her students, had established in a remote corner of mainland Papua New Guinea. The high school at Green River was well established when the plea of the Tekin community came, and Miss Glenda took the challenge once more.

The Tekin school campus with both, Primary and Secondary School, as seen on final approach (photo by Glenda Giles)

So, in 2007, the Oksapmin High School at Tekin opened for its first year, teaching grade 9 students out of bush material buildings as well as providing boarding for these students.
Over the years, Miss Glenda worked herself down the ranks as she had done before at the High Schools and Secondary Schools at Koroba and Margarima, both in Hela Province, and at Green River. Miss Glenda started off as the Principal of the school while at the same time equipping Papua New Guinean teachers for leadership positions; then she worked as the Deputy Principal, and later as a teacher, as she is currently.

Miss Glenda greeting the MAF plane with others waiting for their cargo (photo by Harriëtte Knigge)

A School only Accessible by Air Transport

The establishment of the Oksapmin High School at Tekin was only possible because of MAF‘s service and commitment, as our planes flew and still fly endless loads of building materials, food and school supplies into Tekin, including exam papers and teachers, the only transport in and out being by air. For the students to attend further education facilities and to finish high school, they also depend on MAF’s service to fly them to other major places in the province and beyond.

The concept of the school pays off. The students not only gain knowledge but become young men and women who are able to give back to their community and their country!

In 2014, I was privileged to attend the graduation ceremony and firmly remember the head boy of the school saying this to the teachers in his speech: “The most important thing you have done for us is not just learning, but we have been taught how to be good men and women in the future. We have been given advice and correction for the wrong things we did and we have turned away from them. Now all our bad behaviour has changed and we have been moulded and shaped to become somebody special in the future. You became like our parents at home giving advice, caring and correcting us. We thank you very much.“

13 March 2020: Traditional gift ceremony at the school: The surrounding community groups who
have young people in the school brought gifts of garden food, firewood, fruits, pigs, string bags and cash to give to the school and teachers. (photo by Glenda Giles)

Miss Glenda is still faithfully teaching at the school. The school’s enrolment has expanded to almost 300 students and 15 teachers in 2020, teaching grades 9, 10 and, for the very first time, a small class of grade 11, with 15 boys and 9 girls. Developing grades 11 and 12 means that the school now is called Oksapmin Secondary School.
The school still resides at the campus where it began in 2007 but is hopefully moving to a new campus with permanent school buildings and teachers‘ housing in the next couple of years.

Aerial view of Tekin airstrip and the new Secondary School campus (photo by Glenda Giles)

The Dialogue-Exercise

A few months ago, I asked Miss Glenda about a writing assignment focused on MAF. Together we came up with the idea of a dialogue. Recently, Miss Glenda presented it to her grade 11 students and the students got quite creative.
Here’s one of the dialogues:

Think about what comes and goes on MAF planes as they fly in and out of our airstrip. Think about how these flights affect us and the development of our area.
Complete the dialogue in an interesting way.

Name: Winsen Welsim

Winsen Welsim (photo by Glenda Giles)

Maro: I think I hear an aeroplane overhead!
Jackson: Oh yes! That sounds like a MAF Caravan! We haven’t heard them for a long time. I wonder why it’s coming this time?
Maro: Perhaps it’s bringing things like exercise books, pencils, biros, sharpeners, rubbers, rulers, textbooks, encyclopaedia, fiction and non-fiction books, Bibles, dictionaries, furniture, desks, bales of rice, bales of flour, cartons of noodles, boxes of tinned fish, soaps, cartons of cooking oil, basins, kettles, nails, saws, hammers, plastics, axes and spades for the school, Oksapmin Secondary.
Jackson: Or perhaps it is bringing or picking up people. Who do you think might be coming or going on the plane?
Maro: Well, maybe it is carrying some secondary teachers for the school from Wewak. I heard a rumour from my sister. She heard a teacher telling the board chairman that there will be three secondary school teachers all from Wewak who are coming on next week Monday. This was arranged by the principal, Mr Waitie Timban.
Hey, perhaps it’s an emergency. Do you remember any times when MAF has come to help in an emergency?
Jackson: Yes, I remember when my mother had an accident. She cut her left foot with an axe when she was breaking firewood. There was a perpetual haemorrhage and health workers from Tekin’s clinic were unable to assist her. As well as that, they didn’t have enough supply of anaesthetics. Then she was taken to Telefomin for further medication by boarding a Mission Aviation Fellowship aeroplane.
Why do you think those pilots keep coming? Everyone calls us ‘las ples’ because we are so remote. It’s fairly risky for them too because it’s often cloudy and windy here. Why do you think they do it?
Maro: I think they do it because our one-way airstrip is a mission established airstrip. As well as that, we produce a lot of vegetables for the charter people and in return, they bring cargo and private services to the local people. Furthermore, our one/way airstrip gives assurance to the pilots, when landing and flying out, that they are protected.

Meanwhile (July 2020), the teachers Winsen refers to in his dialogue have arrived yet at Tekin.

Covid-19’s Impact on the School

Air travel in and out of Tekin has been challenging during these past few months because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions enforced by the Papua New Guinea government to protect its people. Schools were suspended too.
The news travelled quickly to Tekin. On 24th March, Glenda wrote on social media:
“’Home is the best place’ to be. This is something that my niece posted on Facebook and it‘s true here in PNG also. The Prime Minister closed all the schools in PNG yesterday, so all our students are now home. We are very closely packed in at our school so our students will be much safer in their scattered homes. Due to aviation restrictions, we don’t expect any flights into our airstrip for the next month. We have good gardens and a good-hearted community so we should be fine.

A few days later, Glenda wrote: ”The sky is strangely silent.”

School resumed again in early May, starting off with a community meeting on 4th May at the school’s soccer field to communicate. Glenda wrote: “We explained the ‘new normal’ and have now brought the students in. Parents were attentive, concerned and supportive of the move. Lessons are scheduled for tomorrow. Sad news was that one of our grade ten student boys died from an infection in his leg at home during the suspension period. Hand wash stations were in action as everyone came in.”

Community meeting at the soccer field for parents and students (photo by Glenda Giles)

Hand wash station (photo by Glenda Giles)

Some students, therefore, mentioned consequences of Covid-19 in the dialogue exercise when asked to write who they thought might be coming or going on the plane:

• People stranded for five solid weeks for Covid-19 at Tabubil
• People who are afraid of Covid-19 and want to come home
• Awareness teams who have been stranded due to lockdown
• People bringing important messages about Covid-19

Here’s a short list that the students wrote of some of the things that the MAF plane may bring:

Medicines for the hospitals and health centres, textbooks, ink, groceries, materials and tools for the new secondary school, sending out things for relatives far away, electronic goods, injections like penicillin, needs and wants for public servants who help our people, cartons of tinned fish, chairs for the school, ideas, things that people from far away countries who have visited us send to us, stationery, clothes that we wear and things to keep us clean, exercise books, rulers, pencils, spades, bush knives, computers, water tanks, bags of rice, Bilum books for Oksapmin Secondary School, disaster food when we have floods, sago, bananas, taros and some greens, dogs and pigs for the village, Bibles, dictionaries, furniture, coffins for people who have died, peoples‘ bags of belongings, boom boxes, bags of second-hand clothes, school mess rations, our exam papers, taking out many vegetables for people to have a good diet in the towns, …

After listening to everyone’s ideas about what comes and goes on a MAF plane, one student realised:

Ok! Ok! Now I understand!
It’s helping to make our long-distance short, instead of walking all the way from Vanimo to Tekin with our cargoes.