WABAG - Kolly Koka, the son of the man in the white shirt and bow tie in the background of this photograph, graduated last week from the University of Papua New Guinea with academic excellence and a leadership award.
The man in the bow tie was Yapi Koka, the board chairman at Kandep High School many years ago who died when his children were very small. His son Kolly graduated last week, two uncles beside him and the Alitip Kewan clan of Kandep very proud. It had been a long battle.
Students who are forced to struggle to complete their studies after one or both their parents have died understand what life is and quickly learn what they need to do to succeed.
When Yap died in the 1980s, young Kolly desperately wanted to attend school but nobody could help him with school fees. At one stage he was chased from the classroom by a class teacher accompanied by a tirade of abuse.
When Kolly graduated from UPNG last week, by way of congratulating him I uploaded this 30-year old photograph of his late father on my Facebook page.
As it happened, this was the first time Kolly had seen a picture of Yapi Koka and, together with my words, the experience left him in tears all night. He was so upset he was unable to join the graduation party his friends and relatives hosted for him.
The following morning, he poured out his thoughts to me, recounting how he had struggled to finally graduate from university. This what Kolly wrote:
“I know the word ‘thank you’ is not enough to express the sort of feeling I have right now after reading your post and seeing my dad for the first time.
“You know, it’s about 20 years since my dad left us to be cared of by our poor mom. I never even had a photo and I sometimes wondered who among my siblings actually resembled our dad.
“This is one of the thousands of unanswered questions I have always had. But you have just answered one. This picture and everything you said just had me filled with a shower of tears all night.
“Senior, once again I just thank you for the photo you have kept for decades to publish on the day I graduated. Today, I’m happy that it’s been exposed with a new dawn.
“I am compelled to share a bit of my story. It starts from the life I started alone with my mom.
“The world completely crumpled around me when my dad died. There were moments when I wondered: ‘Why do bad things happen to some people and not to others. Why is this life so unfair to us?’
“I never thought I would ever be awarded a degree and an award for academic excellence. Those things seemed to be for the brilliant ones who seemed to be the kids of rich people.
“I thought of myself as poor like many others in the village. I never thought a new day would dawn with a fine sunrise.
“I really wanted to go to school but when I actually started the expedition it wasn’t a smooth flight. It never was. No one ever believed I could make it either. I even suffered the vengeance and verbal abuse of some people who knew my poor mother.
“One of them was a teacher who chased me out of the classroom accompanied by some cruel words which I can vividly recall: ‘I can pay your fees and that’s easy. The amount charged is nothing, but I cannot do it. You go home right now because your mother wants you to look after her pigs.’
“The teacher even suggested it would be better if I went to my mother’s village which I actually did and stayed there for a complete year without attending school.
“I still remember walking out of the classroom never holding back my tears. I wondered why the teacher was removing me from class when he was not the school board chairman or the headmaster for that matter.
“I couldn’t argue with him. I was powerless. The only thing I could do was cry. I said to myself: ‘This person who is supposed to teach me, give me knowledge and take me through the year is removing from the class so I must go.’
“So, I walked out of the classroom with tears flooding all over my cheeks. In those days, it was really hard for me to return to the school area. I stayed away to avoid being seen by my former school mates.
“I didn’t want to see them go in and out of the classrooms either. I was that poor little village boy, a fatherless orphan who had to stay away from school. At the swamps, in the gardens, in the bush or wherever I went I could only shed tears.
“But somehow, my mum managed to enrol me back into school after I had spent one whole year in the village.
“The worse part of my continual endurance of pain was to see my elder siblings dropping out of the education system. This depression was much stronger than any other.
“I indeed thought of quitting studies too because I was literally told by some that I was wasting my time only to fail in the end like my siblings.
“They said I could never achieve anything through education. It was better for me to live in the village and help my poor mum. I sometimes wished I never existed. Those disheartening words were so harsh, painful and unbearable. But my mum had faith and kept me in school by working hard to earn money for my school fees.
“It is clear today that the Lord God Almighty made those people so stubborn to say negative things but which have kept me going. As I progressed up the education ladder, a lot people began to help me with school fees, travel fares, clothes, food, accommodation and other necessities.
“My old perspectives shifted entirely. Through the continuous pessimisms and doubtful discernments I heard a wonderful, charming voice which talked softly to me of excellence, fortune and success waiting ahead of me. It was as if a man was literally sitting next to me to speak like that in my ears.
“The voice impressed upon me that I was a completely different person, born at a different time, with a different purpose with a distinct destiny. I and my siblings may have been born from the same mother, in the same village into the same clan and tribe, but we are all completely different individuals.
“My life and my future were my own responsibility which can never be influenced by the actions of my other siblings. There is one more thing, the voice said vividly which I will never forget, ‘Failure only comes to people who are lazy and do other things when they are supposed to commit their time to studies’.
“The voice continued to speak to me and seemed to be right there beside me to provide comfort. I never faced any problems. I was with someone who knew me perfectly, my background and visibly showed me my life 10 years ahead in time.
“I was aware of myself, who I am, what I was doing; where I was and for what reason; with whom I should be with, where and at what specific times I should be. Nothing was hidden anymore. I could see the glimpses of success from ten years back.
“Now I know, the God of Topaz (my grandmother) to whom I committed my life to and whom I serve today was always with me. He is the one who guided me all along and prioritised my studies.
“But yet some people’s inverse perceptions never changed despite me moving up to the higher levels of education.
“I would like to place emphasis that the life I have experienced is coloured both by laughter and pain. Boldness in the midst of anguish is a secure foundation like a boulder on which to build a strong house, a house based on determination and an aim to succeed.
“I have endured hardships and overcame it to prove there is always success in the end.”