| Academia Nomad
PORT MORESBY - This is a difficult article for me to write. On Tuesday of this week I lost a good friend in Lazarus Towa.
Lazarus Towa was known for many traits. To those who he assisted to find jobs or help develop their curriculum vitae (CVs), Lazarus was a real professional who loved his job, his country, and his people.
For those who worked with him, he was a gentle and very respectful colleague. For those who knew him as a friend, he spoke from the heart and cared for you.
My first contact with Lazarus goes back to our days at the University of Papua New Guinea, where I knew him more as a Catholic Christian than a friend. He was Mr Catholic.
He would be seen organising and setting up tables for events. He might have been mistaken to be too religious for those who didn’t much know him at that time.
However he wasn’t just doing these things as a devout Catholic. It was in his nature to never do things casually. He was punctual and reliable. Impeccable.
Even for someone who didn’t know him well back then, if someone asked me to describe his character I’d use the words “commitment and passion” in the same sentence.
We became friends after we graduated from UPNG. He interned at the Australian Awards before graduation, working under one of my current PhD colleagues.
After his passing, my colleague told me how he was the only guy in an all ladies team within the Australian Awards. Her recollection was that Lazarus was shy, but very hardworking. This internship would shape his later work.
He started work with the United States embassy in PNG. After his death, the lady who interviewed him for the job posted a tribute on Facebook about that interview.
At the end of the interview she had asked him “tell me something I didn’t ask about you.”
Lazarus delved into his passion to help Papua New Guineans find jobs and get scholarships for further studies. He was given the job at the embassy.
Apart from this job, Lazarus ran workshops on CV writing and how to prepare for interviews and apply for scholarships.
He had a huge following on Facebook, and I was always intrigued by the amount of work he did.
He had his phone number and email address on the Facebook page, ‘Current Vacancies with LT’, and encouraged people to reach out to him. He would post success stories on his page. That brought more followers and more work.
At the time of our meeting in February 2021, Lazarus had more than 200, 000 followers on ‘Current Vacancies with LT’. It’s now about 256, 000.
He would respond to 500 emails, text messages and Facebook messages each day. These came from PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and many other Pacific Island countries.
Lazarus responded to every single one of them without compromising his job that paid him his salary. And he helped these people without charging them fees.
On 14 February 2021, I met him at Cuppa Coffee at Vision City, Port Moresby and asked, “Bro, why do you do what you do?”
He replied, “We could walk out right now [from Cuppa Coffee] and walk to the front gate and before we reached the gate, we would be stopped a couple of times along the way.
“People would thank me for helping them get a job or scholarship or something I had helped them with.”
Lazarus loved people.
My second question was, “But that’s a lot of work, how to you do it?”
His response was simple (Lazarus was never a man of big and fancy expression). He simply said, “time management” and then detailed what he meant.
He made every single minute count. He broke down tough tasks into segments and engaged with each incrementally.
He would use 3-5 minutes in every 20-30 minutes to respond to questions. He was so knowledgeable in how successful scholarships work and how to be successful in interviews and he was very concise in his responses.
He developed templates which his friends, that is anyone who contacted him, could use to answer questions asked on scholarship application forms, CVs and interviews respectively.
Lazarus would use his lunch time and hours after work to get most of the job done. Three attributes made him so efficient: he was so knowledgeable, he strategically approached his voluntury work, and he had the passion of a deer starved of water in a desert.
The day after I met him at the café, I wrote an article about our conversation.
I also told him he should write a book about what makes him so efficient and he asked me to help.
Then Covid-19 struck PNG around May 2021 and we didn’t meet again. By 2022 I had left for my PhD studies.
Two weeks ago I wanted to renew my passport, so sent him an email. He had recently resigned from his job at the US Embassy and started a small business which included offering services to assist with passport applications.
He got back to me with the requirements and fees for passport applications. Within a week my passport was ready for pick up.
A few hours before he passed away we had a chat on WhatsApp and he advised me that when his team picked up the passport it would be delivered to me.
I was on my way from Canberra for a conference when I got the news that he passed on.
I didn’t want to think about Lazarus in the past tense. After the conference ended, I came back to my hotel room, and asked “what am I doing with my life?”
This gentle human, in his relatively lifespan had impacted so many more lives than most people get to do.
I know it’s a cliché, but Lazarus lived a life full of purpose (in its truest sense), driven by an insane passion for others. He went out burning with passion.
As I write this article I can almost see the passion in his eyes. How it light up when he started talking about his passion to help others progress in life.
If I’d had the chance I would have loved to have a second chat with him (not about passports) to talk about the meaning of life, of existence, of purpose, of charity to others….
I would have asked about how to maintain consistency not just efficiency, how not to feel discouraged and how to wear a broad smile on my face.
And, more importantly, how to be selfless in a world that is obsessed with ‘me first’.
I’m heartbroken as I write this article.
In a country not known for humility and sacrifice, the best among us had been taken.
But looking at the impact of my humble friend, I came to the conclusion that it’s not the length of time lived but the impact one has on others.
There’s a scripture somewhere in the Bible that talks about the reception in heaven when God the Father welcomes home his children and uses the words, “Well done my faithful servant.”
If there’s one man I know who deserves this welcome, it’s my friend Lazarus Towa.
Fly high kumul. Wipa na kalap na hamamas na danis na go insait lo haus blo Papa. High five lo olgeta saints na angelo. You no man natin. You mekim wok na lusim hanmak lo graun. You gat namba. Yu pikinini blo Anutu strong tumas. You pikinini blo Papa.
My sincere condolences to the family of Lazarus, and everyone who played a part in shaping the life of this beautiful human. Thank you for giving us Lazarus.
You barata tumas. Pen wantaim mi tok goodbye.