LEONARD FONG ROKA
PANGUNA – No, I’m not lost from my PNG Attitude family; just accumulating more energy living in the midst of the corporate-mining-politics ridden Panguna mountains trying to educate my young people in a little early childhood institution.
It’s known locally as the John Roka Memorial School and was established by my siblings in honour of our West New Britain father, John Roka, killed by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army in that terrible civil war.
Over the next week or so, I’ll make up for lost time by telling you the inside story of what’s happening in Bougainville today. There’s a lot going on and I look forward to sharing it with you.
The world knows Panguna. This is where Australian company Rio Tinto operated a huge copper, gold and silver mine.
It was discovered in 1964, in production and exporting from 1972, and shut down by an indigenous people’s revolt in 1989.
This plunged Bougainville into a decade-long civil war that killed many thousands of people and destroyed property worth tens of millions of dollars.
In this era following the Bougainville crisis, we Panguna people are the poorest in Bougainville in terms of education. Panguna has few students in the many tertiary institutions of Papua New Guinea and even the nearby Solomon Islands where many Bougainvilleans live.
Of this situation, I have been silently ashamed.
If prestige was money, I would have made a fortune in writing about Bougainville. Within a short time of boarding PNG Attitude in May 2011, the world knew me. I was a writing Panguna man.
But few of my young Panguna relatives were seated in educational institutions reading my words and falling in love with the art of writing.
There are no young people in Panguna who have read anything I have written. Ask me why and first I can say to you that the young people - from toddlers to teens - have more money than me, the university educated man in their midst.
And this is because every able person, male or female, in Panguna is an alluvial gold miner.
Since about 1998 entire communities from every corner of Panguna district have based their lives on gold panning.
We Panguna people also stripped the mine site of all its massive metal structures and plants to feed our appetite for finance.
Scrap metal gone we moved on to deforest the land and pollute the river systems in our section of the Crown Prince Range, the main mountain backbone of Bougainville.
Along with this, as I said, we took all of Bougainville into the dirty era of reckless small scale gold mining.
And the curse we have created from our ignorance is a foreseeable future without an educated populace for Panguna. Our schools are empty; few pupils we have; immersed in a poor capacity to academically advance.
Our future leaders come home after reaching Grade 10 in their educational journey. The Grade 10 examinations send them packing home to submerge themselves in the labouring routine of gold hunting to make money.
Against this backdrop, my siblings decided to make a difference to our community. All of them having tertiary credentials, they decided to sacrifice their own careers so they might develop students and provide academic competency in our homelands.
And after about seven years the difference is that the John Roka Memorial School produces the best performing students for the primary schools it feeds.
Thus, a couple of years ago, I walked out of the corrupt Bougainville government to contribute to this good work in my village.
Teaching my eleven Grade 1 students this year, I feel great.
So much so that I considered that returning to the writing family of PNG Attitude would be the next best thing I would do since I would be educating the world in two fronts: the foundation of developing the young generation; and a community in need of robust political, social and economic thinking about Bougainville.
But the average Panguna men and women do not think this way about our home.
No, only the aging educated people think like me. The people educated before the crisis. The able population tilts each day towards where smells the money in the burrows.
We the Panguna people have stripped many corporate organisations and individuals that dream of making money in Panguna.
We have also skinned NGOs, government agencies and donors with fat wallets of every kind of money and sent them home disappointed and wondering what happened to the tangible results.
We are Panguna people. We love money in our pocket but not our future social, political and economic security.
This can only be attained by an educated population.