DION TULO *
BUKA - In many rural parts of Bougainville youth plays a vital part in communities through sports, cultural organisations, church groups and small development projects funded by non-government organisations.
This is a story of a small group of youths from Kohea village, in the Haku constituency of Buka Island, who succeeded through sheer hard work and dedication to complete a small development project in their community.
There had been some development in the area - coconuts cut down to make way for new buildings, water tanks to provide clean drinking water - but this project was different.
It involved the construction of concrete steps from the hilltop village of Ngalkobul down to the beach – 180 steps covering 170 metres.
There are many beach tracks in Haku that link villages along the beach to people uphill along the road network. Some are easier to access while others are very difficult, up high cliff faces like at Tanahu, Elutupan and Hanpan villages.
Men, women and children have toiled along these tracks for decades carrying food, firewood and materials to build houses.
Villages were once located along the beach but, as development took place in the early 1970s, people started to move inland to higher ground along the main road.
This is now where schools, churches and clinics are located. Since those earlier days, the population in Haku has increased dramatically and young people number more than half the population.
The youths, led by Majin Korakoto, started work in January 2014. The work was hard - carrying coral stone to fill and raise the height of the walkway from ground level to prevent silting and the growth of mould and algae.
Walking up and down the slope with a bag of cement and loads of coronous many times a day is not easy. The community, assisted by the St Nicholas Church group, lined along the beach ferrying coral stone uphill to allow the youths to work faster.
As the gradient was steep, the steps had to be built to run at a left and right angles so the walking motion uphill would be consistent and so the elderly could more readily make the climb to the top.
Gradually they worked out a routine for the task. First, cut down trees, bamboo and shrubs to clear the site. Next, dig and put in place the formwork and reinforce it by placing coral stone inside the reinforcement similar to a gabion basket.
The heavy rain added to their problems as they had to construct a diversion stormwater drain from the hilltop to protect the structure.
On every Saturday they organised for a tractor to load coronous from the Tankihira gravel pit owned by Mr Kongkong and haul it a kilometre and a half to mix with the concrete.
This work was tedious and seemed never ending but they slowly make progress downhill. They had to do it correctly so the footpath would last a life time and be something the community would be proud of.
On 22 August 2014, seven months after work began, they finally completed the project, funded solely by me at a cost of K30,000.
The community, churches and youths had achieved their goal. It was a fine example of a community project accomplished through the determination of youth who were willing to contribute to the development of their communities and bring Bougainville to a better future.
The last touches were made - safety handrails installed, everything painting and flowers planted along the steps.
This footpath also reconnected the present to the past by allowing children, women, and the elderly who have not visited the beach for a very long time to have an easier, convenient and safe walkway to visit the beach.
The structure blends in well with the environment and the angles and slopes of the concrete work brings a smile of satisfaction to Chiefs David Tubono and Titus Hihis as they sit down to enjoy their buai.
The youths from Kohea are seen to have done a good job and, led by team leader Majin, had not only succeeded but had won the hearts of the people of Haku.
So in the afternoons, as the sun declines slowly in the north of Buka Island, the children of Kohea walk slowly to the sea. It’s 180 steps down to the beach and they will enjoy it for a life time.
* Dion Tulo, an engineer in Port Moresby, initiated and supervised the project to help his people of the Haku area. The steps were opened by Fr Tony Nawata of the Lemanmanu Parish on 16 September 2014 together with the vice chairman of Haku Constituency, Mr Raymond Hareke, and the council of elders of Haku Constituency