PORT MORESBY – “Pack your cargo and go to the carpark, the school bus will drop you off at the airport,” these words of the principal of Sogeri National High School were directed at the young Belden Namah.
Speechless and in despair, Namah left the principal’s office and, silently sobbing, walked down the path to the male dormitory.
He packed his few clothes into a bag and, rolled up bedding in hand, walked to the carpark to be picked up by the school bus.
Typical of students wanting to avoid shame and humiliation, he did not inform his friends, neither did he bid them farewell. He just wanted to go unnoticed.
The young Namah knew that this was the end of his dream of completing a national high school education.
He did not want to go back home having not completed his studies but he had no choice left.
Thinking of the struggles he had endured to come this far in his secondary education had made him emotionally broken and in tears.
He tucked his head low between his shoulders and, with face down, trudged to the car park.
Around the same time, an ancillary staff member, Moses Lavi, was mowing the lawn along the path.
Moses was used to noticing students walking to the carpark with their bags during school days. It meant that the student was either suspended or had withdrawn.
Sometimes, if he knew the student, he would ask to know the reason.
Moses knew Namah from Sabbath worship at the Sogeri town church, which was on the school campus, so he asked what had happened.
The tearful young man replied he had been released from school for non-payment of boarding fees. He would need to return to what was then the West Sepik District. The bus was waiting to drop him at the airport.
Moses told Namah to go to his house and leave the bags there. Then he reported to the Administration and informed them that now Belden Namah had official off-campus status under his own guardianship.
Upon selection to go to Sogeri National High school from remote Vanimo, Namah had an air ticket funded by the Education Department, a school uniform and clothes to wear on non-uniform days and after hours.
He never had pocket allowance, footwear, soap and he had little stationery. He was not just a simple village kid from Vanimo, but he also came from a poor family.
Although not related to Namah by bloodline or geography, Moses and his wife, both from Musau Island in New Ireland, took him under their roof like one of their own.
They helped him buy a second school uniform, other clothes and items to use at school. Every fortnight they gave him an allowance of K2 (worth about K10 in today’s money).
Both of his years at national high school were spent at the home of the Moses couple. It was a gesture of great generosity and it changed Namah’s life.
Finishing school Namah was selected for six months military training at the Igam Barracks of the PNG Defence Force.
From there, he went to Australia for special forces training at Duntroon Military College. Upon returning to PNG, he was promoted to Lieutenant and placed in command of a platoon.
In 1997, by now promoted to Captain, Namah joined four other junior officers to stop mercenaries engaged by the Chan government to fight against Bougainvillean guerrillas.
The so-called mutiny of 28 July shed no blood, caused no harm and succeeded but Namah and the other officers were arrested, convicted of mutiny and gaoled, to eventually be released on parole in 2003.
In 2007 he successfully stood for parliament, where he is now opposition leader having previously served as deputy prime minister.
Over all these controversial years, Namah never forgot the Moses couple.
After his election to parliament, Namah arrived at the home of the Moses couple, wanting to repay them for their sacrifices to him.
They refused to accept anything, saying, “We do not want you to pay us with anything. Go on with your life but if you see a kid out their struggling, do the same we did to you and spread kindness.”
In early 2013, Moses Lavi passed on after a short illness. At the time of his death, he was the longest serving staff member of Sogeri national high school.
He spent over 30 years at Sogeri, serving in various capacities and contributing to making the school a better place.
His wife was the school librarian, and retired to beautiful Musau Island after Moses’ death.
This is the true tale of PNG’s military veteran and firebrand national politician.
I write this story of Belden Namah in memory of Moses Lavi, whose actions taught us the lesson of kindness.