BY LYDIA KAILAP
MOST OF OUR YOUNG people in the Kaugere Settlement are uneducated, dirt poor and without a home. Many have lived a life of petty crime since they were small; if they hadn't they would be dead from starvation.
This is not their fault; they never asked to be born into an environment of hopelessness and abject poverty. They didn't ask to be born in a country of great natural wealth that never finds its way to the grassroots. The dire situation that they are in was not one of their choice.
Having lived in PNG for a number of years, I have had the pleasure of meeting thousands of Papua New Guineans; the ones I love the most and have the greatest respect for are the forgotten and neglected boys from Kaugere.
They still have the heart of a child and a high degree of innocence; despite, and because of, what their life has been so far. They grasp every opportunity that comes their way that even remotely promises to improve their lives.
Above all else, they willingly and passionately help to build a better life for "the shorties" in their lives - the small children who are exactly as they were a few short years ago.
These boys built The Children's University of Music and Art with their bare hands. They broke the ground and moved many tonnes of earth with a buggered wheelbarrow, two shovels, one mattock and one crowbar.
It took almost a month of solid hard labour in the hot sun. They received cold water and a meal of rice and stew each day ... nothing else.
They travelled out to Hood Lagoon and Kerema and went into the bush to cut the timber and biri for the school building; then spent many weeks constructing three classrooms and a kitchen at CUMA.
The handful who could read and write became teachers at CUMA and passed on what they knew to the shorties; once again without pay. They built rock walls and planted gardens around the school to make it look attractive. They guarded CUMA with their lives.
Now they have started a small bakery in the kitchen they built and are baking and selling scones to help bring in money to keep the school going. They start baking at about 2 am and work until 6 am; then go out on the streets of Port Moresby to sell their scones until they are finished. Then they shop for more ingredients and start over again.
Never a complaint of no pay; never a complaint of hard work; they joyfully work to make a difference in the lives of the small children in Kaugere. Their reward was to witness 360 little students getting the education that they themselves had been deprived of.
Many of them sleep in the classrooms at night because they have no home to go to. They are joined by dozens of younger children who also have no home. The big boys protect the small ones and share whatever little they have with them.
We were not aware of the smaller children sleeping in the classrooms for several weeks until my husband Peter got up in the early hours of the morning to go to the toilet. He came back and woke me and led me quietly to the classroom.
In addition to our big boys there were about 20 little fellows asleep on the ground with no mat or bedsheet, huddled together dressed in their rags. They had been coming to CUMA late at night to sleep and leaving before dawn. They sought the comfort and safety of "a home".
After this discovery we opened the school to any child who had nowhere to sleep and encouraged them to come earlier in the evening and share our rice.
The miracle is this: we always struggle to feed the haus and the big boys, let alone an extra mob. It was decided amongst us that whatever we had we would share with them, even if we went a bit hungrier than usual.
The same pot of rice and the same pot of stew went further and no-one was hungry after the meal.
Please Papua New Guineans, have some compassion for the rascals you encounter on the streets, try not to judge them too harshly and realise it is not their fault. They are trying to make a difference in their lives with virtually no encouragement or help from their fellow PNGs who are far better off than they are.
In Jesus name I pray for all of us and a unity of people as human beings and children of God.
Lydia Kailap is one of the founders of the Children’s University of Music and Art at the Kaugere Settlement. Visit the CUMA Facebook page here