“Transcripts received.” “Can you please scan me a copy of your marriage certificate?” “Your application is now complete. If you give me the green light, I will go ahead and submit it.” These were the last three interactions I had with a liaison from the University of Western Australia. And after receiving confirmations from the university, I can now say that I have officially applied for a Master Degree in Social Work.We’re now sharing this with you so that you can join us in prayer. A masters program for social work in Western Australia can potentially open many doors for us. This University is in downtown Perth, right in the area where we would love to spend a couple of years. This is just an hour and 39 minutes from Brookton and Ryan could make trips out there during the week and the Wheatbelt could (hopefully!) be where I do any practical part of the program. When our eyes were first opened to the scope of problems in the Wheatbelt, Ryan and I both asked the question, “What can we do?” In seeking to answer this question, this program at UWA came on our radar. This program can potentially use my background in literacy and education while expanding my skill set to include other practical, tangible ways to help people. It can also potentially be a building block to help me connect the Yakima youth to the Aboriginal youth. And so much more. Please pray specifically with us. Please pray that I would be accepted to pursue a Masters Degree in Social Work at UWA. Please pray that our path and timing would become more clear in the next couple of months. And please pray for our hearts, ok more specifically my heart, as this season of waiting and wandering is particularly difficult.
Two main lasts are happening this week. I’m happy about having only a last couple of days without Ryan but I’m sad that today is my last day of teaching because I have my final evening class. I really enjoy teaching ESL to adults. As much as I love teaching kids, adults are motivated and interesting in a different kind of way. I have loved getting to know my students and their stories. I will miss them. And they will miss me. Yesterday during my last morning class the students surprised me with a party complete with a cake, flowers, cards, pizza and other food. I really appreciate their effort and planning. It made the day extra special. I wish all the students could have been a part of it but that’s one of the realities of working with adults, they come to class around their work and kid schedules. This is only a part of the awesome class that made teaching so enjoyable for me. Maybe in the future, I will have an opportunity to teach English again.
4 years ago today, I was in Walagu (the main Onobasulu village in PNG) fighting with the sun for power and trying to get curriculum work done with the Onobasulu despite many setbacks and crazy things happening in the village around us. My co-worker Beverly and I were joined by a student named Jenny who was completely surprised at the wide variety of tasks we needed to do on a daily basis that had little or nothing to do with the translation or literacy work. It makes sense that we would help the people we were serving and working with in a wide variety of areas but working as an electrician and a nurse were not on my resume. But sometimes you just have to make it work.
In this post from June 29th, I wrote about learning the difference between “bulk and float voltage” as well as connecting batteries with solar panels. Taking care of big batteries and connecting solar panels is not a normal task in my life now but it was just a part of village life in PNG. Who knows, maybe this will come in handy again some day:-)
In the post, I also wrote about all the medical issues we were dealing with (ear infections, terrible boils and sores as well as a broken arm). At this point we didn’t realize that Beverly would eventually set the broken with directions I was getting from an emergency phone call/radio session with a doctor in Ukarumpa. Despite all the health care issues in the US, nothing compares to the problems that arise when people lack basic things like soap and access to the most basic medical care. Seriously, how do you keep a little boy, who lives and plays in the dirt, clean when his bathtub is a river with muddy banks!?
Although I don’t miss the wet feet, odd infections and strange stresses of life in PNG. I do miss the people and the part of my job description that read “play with small children every chance you get”. The pictures in this post were taken from a July 30th post that happened once we got back to Ukarumpa. Since we were using HF radio to send emails in the village, posting to the blog with pictures was practically impossible. But I was thankful for the power we did have to send text only blog updates via email.
Even though I’m now back in the US, the Onobasulu people are still living and working in their communities in PNG. Please continue to pray for the Onobasulu people. Pray for health, community unity and successful, continued work on Bible Translation, literacy and education.
After spending three years in Papua New Guinea, I still have a soft part in my heart for the country and people. I also keep in touch with friends who have worked or still work in PNG. In a country about the size of California, there are still about 300 languages that need a Bible Translation and many more languages that only have a portion or small part of the scriptures finished. The need is great but the need isn’t only for Bible Translators or language workers. There are also many people who work behind the scenes and this includes teachers.
When I was in PNG, I had the privilege of living with teachers from both the primary and secondary campuses. I got to see how hard they work to teach and care for the students. I know that living and teaching in PNG has it’s challenges but it also has many rewards. Pray about this opportunity because Ukarumpa needs more teachers.
One of my goals in PNG was to have everything I did be useful, not just for the Onobasulu but for other language groups as well. I wanted people who came behind me not just say, that was a nice idea, but to be able to take what I did and use it as is or adapt it for their context. Last month when I heard about the new PNG language policy one of my main frustrations was that I felt like this invalidated my curriculum work. I put a lot of time and effort into making the materials great for the Onobasulu and for other language groups as well and I had hoped that the materials would continue to be used and not just pushed aside. Fortunately, I have been encouraged since then, that they are not being tossed out simply because of the new policy. A couple weeks ago, I received an email that said that Hauwo, my Onobasulu literacy co-worker, took some of the literacy materials and showed them to someone in the education office and they were impressed with them and wanted to get their hands on similar materials. There is hope!
And in a recent Catherine Rivard blog post I can see that the literacy courses are still using the Health and Safety Game. If you enjoyed learning about literacy in Papua New Guinea, Catherine writes in a fun and interesting way about her experiences. She does a lot of work similar to what I was doing. This recent post (shown below) talks about village health and includes a picture of my game being used! This is why I took the time to have it in Tok Pisin and not just Onobasulu. It’s usable for other language groups as well. I am so excited that my work continues without me in PNG! And thanks Catherine for being a part of that.
Smack That Fly!
|Students played games to practice making health choices.|
Last August, twenty national teachers from eight different languages were seated in the shade, listening intently to the health lecture and furiously scribbling notes. I, along with eight other expat and national staff were leading these teachers in an intense, month-long training to better equip rural teachers in using the local language in education, through topics like principles and practices of literacy, fluency, storywriting, book production, and curriculum and material creation as well as personal development, leadership, and finances. One of my many responsibilities included coordinating the health sessions, and today I had asked a local nurse to present on diarrhoea.
|The students hard at work at translating the booklet!|
And so, on that afternoon, the students were talking about the causes, prevention, and cure of diarrhoea, the number one killer of children in Papua New Guinea. Later, they clustered into groups as they pored over their notes and strained to translate into their own languages a story which could communicate this vital information to their communities. “Did we get all the meaning?” they asked each other. “Read it again!”
The next evening, as several of the women students gathered on the cool veranda, a young mother from a local hamlet approached them, clutching a crying infant to her chest. As they visited, the students realized that the baby was dehydrated and suffering from pekpek wara (diarrhoea). Without hesitation, the women flew into action, sending for me while advising the mother and offering rehydrating fruit according to their training. But when I arrived to see the infant contently sleeping against his mother, there was nothing I could do but smile. “You’ve done everything right,” I told them. “You now know how to protect your children!”
A bit of background: While I was living in Papua New Guinea, the official education policy favored vernacular education while encouraging bridging into English in order to allow children the opportunity to engage in higher education which is primarily conducted in English. If that sentence is a bit hard to understand, it basically means that children should learn to read and begin school in the language they already know and then have English taught to them slowly in order to prepare them for future learning. This policy makes sense because with over 850 languages in PNG, there is a need for having a lingua franca but most children aren’t even exposed to English by the time they start school so elementary vernacular education is a necessity. With this policy, the government built their elementary education program which trained teacher to create and produce their own vernacular curriculum based on standardized outcomes. This was a good system in theory. It had some problems but at least the foundation of the policy was correct. However, materials and implementations are huge challenges because the teachers, who are only required to have a grade 10 education themselves, don’t have easy access to materials, resources and other basic necessities in order to facilitate the demands placed on them. Most of the teachers also have a poor level of English themselves so when it comes time to teach their students, they are already at a disadvantage. This was the situation that I was navigating and trying to help my co-workers thrive despite the roadblocks.
The Onobasulu situation and my work: Because of the challenges described above, I became a curriculum development facilitator for the Onobasulu elementary school teachers. Instead of everyone doing their own thing, we came together and created a unified curriculum for three years of Elementary. This curriculum included everything the government policy was asking for and more. It allowed the students to learn in Onobasulu but them slowly introduced English with lots of aids and materials to make it easier on the teacher as well. It was also created in such a way that it could hopefully be reproduced and tweaked to fit other language groups. They could gain the benefits of a unified curriculum with a bit less work. And although I did a lot of the computer, printing, organization and grunt work, the end result was something that had the Onobasulu, Papua New Guinean stamp. It was my co-workers and the Onobasulu Elementary school teachers who did the leg work. It was hard work but a huge step ahead for the Onobasulu community. A huge step ahead for all the Onobasulu kids!
The New Education Policy: Yesterday I received an email with the new Papua New Guinea education policy. You can click on the link to read it if you are interested but basically it says that as of this year, all Elementary education will be done in English and English will be taught as a subject. They are blaming vernacular for the poor standard of English in the country. And while there are clauses that give us hope, only allowing the use of vernacular in “exceptional cases” is a far cry from giving children and education in a language they understand. I admit producing English only materials, creating a unified curriculum and providing education in more urban areas are all simplified with the use of English. They also explicitly state that this is an English only policy and not to be confused with using Tok Pisin (an English based pigin which is widely spoken). This sounds good in theory but without teachers who really speak English well, pigin is inevitably going to be used.
My feelings on the subject: It’s a good thing I am writing this today and not yesterday. My first reaction was very angry because this was basically three years of my life and work that I was proud of that the government just told me was no longer valid. Then I was really sad for all my sweet Onobasulu kids who now have even less of a chance at succeeding in formal education because of this policy. And then I just kept running through my head all of the things wrong with the new policy. Like I said before, the vernacular education policy wasn’t perfect and there were huge hurdles to overcome. However, the science and research behind it was sound. Children who are educated in the language they know and understand best while learning another language as a subject, in the end end up with a better knowledge and grasp of both languages and they also retain more of the other subjects they learned because they could understand what the teacher was saying. And the teachers already have such poor level of English that they are also at a disadvantage. At this point I am just shaking my head.
Moving forward: SIL and Wycliffe are still committed to vernacular Education and hopefully the Onobasulu schools will be able to continue using the vernacular materiels. The idea is just to give the schools another name and keep teaching in vernacular until the policy changes again. There are enough people in PNG on the ground who realize the misguided nature of this new policy so hopefully it will swing back and change once again. But for me I will just sit back and watch from California and pray for the schools, the educators, the policy makers and the children. Please join me in praying for insight and change.