MARLENE DEE GRAY POTOURA
LAE - So many kind hearted PNG Attitude readers have given my two children and me a wonderful Christmas. Your help has made us happy, as we have had a really tough time lately.
I write this article to tell my story and show that I work hard to try to make things happen. The kindness of readers pushes me forward to keep doing what I do.
Thank you for your kindness. I wish you all a prosperous new year.
My children’s father brought me to Lae from Port Moresby in 2005 when my son was around five months old.
In 2006, I got a job at the Salvation Army school as its deputy principal. At the end of 2009 I was offered the role of principal with a full sponsorship to do a master’s degree in leadership at Divine Word University. But instead I resigned because I wanted to start a learning centre for the sake of my son, who had a disability, and other children with parents who worried whether they were properly taken care of.
So I wrote a letter to the Lions Club here in Lae asking if I could use their building in Eriku to operate a learning centre and if I could pay the bond fee and rentals at the end of January 2010.
My daughter was seven months old that December when I left the Salvation Army school, keys at the ready to gain access to Lions Hall, a pleasant building. I set high standards and offered a progressive reading program and turned it into one of the best learning centres in Lae.
From 2011 to 2013, the Sylbeez Hive Learning Centre (‘Where your child is taught to love school, enjoy school and see the sweetness in learning’) prospered, enrolling more than 200 students. Children came from 65 km away. I was not ready for how my school flourished. It was unbelievable.
But, as always seems inevitable in Papua New Guinea, trouble brewed.
First my marriage started crumbling. Then a jealous rival holding a position in the Education Department and also operating his own school in the settlement areas, began to undermine my project.
He wrote me numerous letters questioning my tenancy of the Lions Hall, saying it belonged to the special education school because it was on their land.
The matter intensified, I became extremely anxious and in Term 2, 2014, I left the Hall and moved the school out of town to the Telikom College Library at the back of the University of Technology.
I had to buy a school van to transport children back and forth and also hired two coaster buses for the same purpose.
Despite that, it was a very poor choice to move the school out of town. I faced numerous problems and still live with the aftermath.
Because we were far from town, most parents continued to use the buses to send their children to school – but many began to skip paying fees. They still owe me fees but whenever I meet them I smile and never mention the outstanding fees.
Gradually the bills began to overtake me.
At the beginning of 2015, we continued at Telikom College, hoping for a brighter year, but the bills were suffocating me.
Then, during the year, a 14-year old male relative came to live with me to attend school and forced himself on my babysitter, who also lived in my household. This was a time of heartache, it required compensation and triggered a family feud that carries on to this day.
My school was struggling and I was faced with problems that needed money to fix.
I moved the school library, materials and students’ tables and chairs to a flat I rented and locked the other furniture at the Telikom College, where it remains.
And sadly I closed the school.
In 2016, I got a teaching job at the Salvation Army school. A few students still came to my flat for classes, taught by a teacher I employed. Then in October that year, a fire started in the flat and we were chased away by opportunistic neighbours at four in the morning. Our belongings were left behind and most of them subsequently stolen.
I reopened Sylbeez in 2017 and, still in my teaching job, employed a teacher and an assistant to teach. The enrolment was small, around 10 children and the rental was K2,000 monthly.
This year I resigned from my teaching job, thinking I would get the school back to how it had been but 2018 was to become my worst year of struggle.
Around 15 children enrolled but the water was disconnected in February due to non-payment of bills by the landlord. Parents moved children to other schools. I was left with seven students, but by the end of the eyar the parents of just four were paying their fees.
I got senselessly robbed on 22 of February. My kids and I had to move out of our comfortable flat at Tent City and lived in a room at the school. I couldn’t afford to rent two places.
The school was in a totally run down building without running water, and in November, just a week before my son’s graduation, we were robbed clean again.
At that time of deep despair, I wrote an angry piece on Facebook and PNG Attitude came to my assistance.
In my next article, I will write about what I am doing to plan the rebirth of my school in 2019.