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How a Gumine family graduated from Yale

Pole Kale
Pole Kale writes the story of his life and career but also a manual on how a commitment to education is best realised as a family pursuit


Quest for Education: From Selling Firewood to Yale University, by Pole John Kale, Published by Francis Nii under the imprint of Simbu Writers Association, August 2020. Copies can be ordered from Pole Kale, email polekale@gmail.com. Also available here from Amazon Books

KUNDIAWA - It is not often that you will find an academic success story of a Papua New Guinean intellectual in print form.

Although written CVs or career profiles may give an insight into a person’s academic background, the early childhood experiences that contribute to achieving such success are mostly obscured.

This book, ‘Quest for Education: From Selling Firewood to Yale University’, is an inspirational autobiography of how a rural highlands village boy struggled for education under trying circumstances to end up at one of the world’s renowned universities.

Author Pole John Kale, from Gumine district in the mountains of Simbu, can best be described as a can-do-guy in an era of many-can’t-do.

When he was born, Pole’s parents, Thomas and Monita, a typically poor village couple, were already approaching old age.

But it was through them, as Pole describes, that he owes his success. The opening chapter introduces them and how they persevered relentlessly to get the education that they never could have had.

Pole’s father had other wives before wedding Monita, his last wife. Monita had been married to one of Pole’s paternal uncles but was publicly divorced in front of the entire community and told to depart.

But Thomas had other ideas. While the distraught and embarrassed Monita was sent along the forest track that led to her village, Thomas kidnapped her and took her back to his village, and there he married her.

So Pole’s parents were middle aged when they tied the knot and already past their active life when Pole attended school, that caused the author the many struggles he describes.

Pole takes us along the often difficult journey of his quest for his education.

When Gumine Community School was forced to close in 1987 as a result of election-related violence, Pole tells how he left Kuleka village for the first time to go to Port Moresby.

He travelled with a relative in search of his older sister, which they succeeded in foing. But he was refused admission by the headmaster because he had not brought a transfer card with him.

Quest coverUndeterred, young Pole decided to approach the Education Secretary in Waigani instead. After many adventures in the Fincorp Haus headquarters, including a memorable tussle with an electrical elevator, he succeeded in his mission.

But he did not last long in Port Moresby. Missing his aging parents at home he asked his sister to send him back. Pole was happy to be back in Gumine but it turned out to be a tough decision for his parents.

They needed to find money to pay his school fees, and that is how they got into the business of selling firewood to the public servants at the Gumine station.

And when the school fees exceeded income from firewood, his parents sold their land to fund Pole’s secondary education at boarding school.

Pole realised that this was a problem, so he quit boarding to become a day-student, walking 10 kilometers each day for two years from Kuleka to Omkolai for secondary education. His aging parents continued to sell firewood at Gumine.

The humble work of selling firewood door to door brought shame on the family from fellow tribesmen, who considered aging folks selling firewood every day before sunrise a total disgrace that brought embarrassment to the tribe.

So they discouraged Pole’s parents from selling firewood. The tribe’s reaction also embarrassed young Pole who also discouraged his parents. But they refused to stop collecting and selling firewood.

The stigma spread to Pole’s peer group. The kids branded him with names such as “wood seller” and “son of old man” causing discomfort to Pole. He would often argue with his parents to stop them selling firewood. But they ignored him.

It was in one of those arguments that Pole’s father opened up to him, “If we didn’t sell firewood, then who will pay your school fees? We will continue to sell firewood. You go to school and complete the last school”.

That moment was the turning point for Pole. He made a promise for his future, “If my parents sell firewood and bring ‘shame’ to my tribe, then I will study forestry and work in the forestry field to the level where I can bring pride to my community and tribe to erase the shame my parents brought into the tribe from selling firewood”.

Pole never diverted his attention from this goal. After completing Grade 10 he listed the Papua New Guinea Forestry College (now a campus of the PNG University of Technology) as his first choice.

He was accepted, was elected vice-president of the Student Representative Council and graduated with a diploma. It was the first of many other certificates, diplomas and degrees he would amass in the future.

After Forestry College, Pole’s excellent character, his leadership qualities and high academic performance saw him appointed to the PNG Forest Research Institute as a technical officer.

It was Pole’s first taste of formal employment and he enjoyed it. But he was now dreaming of advancing his forestry career through further education.

An opportunity came when he went to Japan in 1998 and New Zealand in 1999 to study forest tree seeds. His specialised training made Pole the first tree seed x-ray specialist in PNG.

In 2002, he was back in New Zealand on a scholarship to undertake a graduate diploma in applied science at Lincoln University.

Now Pole was on a roll. In 2003 he a competitive World Bank scholarship and a Yale University financial aid award to undertake a Master of Forestry at Yale University in the United States.

Pole this advanced degree in 2005 and set to work for some years. But that was not the end of study.

Realising how furthering his education could assist greatly in his forestry work, Pole secured an Australian scholarship to undertake a Master of Environmental Law degree with a focus on climate change at Macquarie University in Sydney. This he completed successfully in 2013.

In the final chapter of his book Pole tells of the many capacities in which he has served PNG as one of the country’s top intellectuals, including as general manager of Transparency International PNG.

More recently, Pole was contracted by the Global Green Growth Institute to support the development of PNG’s Climate Change and Development.

In his concluding chapter Pole has an important message for his readers:

“My achievements and who I am today is the sacrifice of my aging parents, Thomas and Monita Kale—thank you!

“In my experience, I learned that success in education is for committed parents and children. That is, parents must be committed to the education of their children and the children themselves must be committed to their education.

“To all who are struggling and have struggled in life to attain their education—do not give up, rewards are always awaiting struggling people and God will answer your heart’s desire.”

‘Quest for Education: From Selling Firewood to Yale University’ is a book about commitment, dedication and perseverance - and family love. It is an ideal read for all ages.

Written in straightforward English, it is a motivating book that will enlighten and keep readers engrossed.

It also provides strategies for winning international scholarships, tells how to succeed in education regardless of the major obstacles and provides useful addresses and contact details of scholarship providers that may be of interest to some readers.


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Kenny Pawa

Thank you Arnold

Arnold Mundua

Agree with you Phil.

It is becoming obvious now that team effort produces good result in self publishing.

Like Mathias Kin, I also went through Pole's book at its initial stage. I went through the manuscript as a second eye so I decided to do this review of the book.

Indeed, it is a great book for parents and children to read.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Traditional wisdom says that writers are solitary characters who labour away by themselves until they have a manuscript worth publishing.

In this age of self publishing that isolation is becoming more intense but it doesn't have to be like that at all.

I've played a role in several books published by Simbu and other writers, usually as editor or proof reader, as was the case with Pole's book.

Others also played various roles as researchers, contrubutors and the like.

This makes for an interesting model whereby a book becomes a team effort, emulating to some extent the old traditional publishing method.

There is no reason, however, that a Melanesian way of community effort couldn't be applied to book production, even at the early writing stage.

Mathias Kin

I fully endorse Arnold's recommendations. In the beginning of the book there are much anthropologies about the changing times Pole grew up in in South Simbu - a period where if the parent had a determination and put in an effort, the child will usually make it.

The child also, through whatever motivation, must also have that drive. Pole had that.

I also assisted in the book along the way and find Pole Kale's book an excellent book for all parents and their children who have dreams for an education.

Pole today is a very humble young bloke who resides in Kundiawa, and who has become a "boi blong group" and an important addition to the SWA.

Philip Kai Morre

Pole Kale briefly stayed at Sogeri when he was a boy. I was doing pastoral work at Sogeri Catholic church taking care of some of the youths including Pole Kale. He was a quite and shy boy who isolated himself from rest of the boys. After many years we mat again as writers. Pole is a humble person with self determination and discipline.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I had the pleasure of reading this book during the editing process and I agree with everything that Arnold has said.

I particularly found the marriage and then dedication of Pole's parents fascinating and moving. The book is motivating for PNG students but also for parents seeking a good education for their children.

I wholly endorse Arnold's recommendation about reading this book.

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