| Academia Nomad
PORT MORESBY – Lazarus Towa, a most unusual man, has died. He was a man of great community spirit and pride in his country.
On 14 February 2021, I had a long chat with Lazarus. I blogged about it the next day and my article was republished in PNG Attitude.
Lazarus Towa ran the popular ‘Current Job Vacancy Repost with LT’ group on Facebook, which had 202,000 followers.
He would receive and reply to 500 emails and messages a day helping people to find jobs.
It was such an enormous workload. Rest easy, Champ.
This outstanding project, all of Lazarus’s design, saw him awarded the Young Man of Honour award by Digicel Foundation in 2018 and, in the same year, the Commonwealth Youth Award from Queen Elizabeth II.
He was one of the United Nations Youth Champions for Sustainable Development, as a result of which he met and had a chat with Prince Harry.
Some people love the grand stage with its cameras and celebrities. Newspapers cover celebrity events and grand finals draw thousands of viewers to television.
But for Lazarus, there were no cameras, journalists and coverage of the toil that led to these magnificent moments.
So in February 2021, when I walked past Lazarus in Cuppa Coffee at Vision City and saw him sitting alone, I behaved like I’d just stumbled across a long lost friend.
We high-fived and I invited myself to the empty seat opposite him. I began with the question ‘how do you do it’ and we chatted for more than an hour.
Every time I went online, I opened ‘Current Job Vacancy Repost with LT’ and found vacancies, stories of how someone got a job using tips from Lazarus, scholarship information and Lazarus’s replies to all his correspondents.
How did he do that? I teach about 400 students at UPNG every year and it kills me! But 202, 000, how?
Lazarus replied to those 500 messages a day using his own resources.
Messages from people from all walks of life from people in Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific Islands.
Questions seeking help on how to develop a CV or how to prepare for an interview or how to write a job application or how to win a scholarship.
I asked him questions about why he had started such a time-consuming voluntary job, how he managed his time and whether he’d ever thought about monetising a service with such a large following.
I asked him where his motivation came from, how he managed criticism and how many people had found jobs because of his help.
I also asked him how long he planned to keep the service running?
Well we now have the sad answer to that question.
Thanks to an internship the previous year with the Australian Awards office in Port Moresby, Lazarus was one of the first of his friends to get a job immediately following his final year of study in 2014.
He got a job with Awards PNG (at the time I spoke with him he was with the US Embassy) and started helping his friends to find jobs.
He’d do everything from fixing their CVs and photocopying documents using his own resources.
Having realised that not many of them could develop a good CV, effectively market their skills or prepare for an interview, he thought, ‘If this is a problem faced by people I know, then there must be many more who face such challenges’.
This gave birth to the now popular ‘Current Job Vacancy Repost with LT’ which over time he expanded to trainings courses at weekends and holidays.
Lazarus told me that in his “honest estimation” he had directly helped more than 700 people get jobs. His estimate was based on how many people sent him a message to thank him, or posted a message on Facebook after getting a job with his help.
I think this was a conservative estimate. Remember the story of the 10 people who Jesus Christ healed? Only one came back to thank Him.
I also asked Lazarus whether it had ever crossed his mind to monetise his large following.
The question made him uncomfortable. He would never monetise his followers. When someone got an opportunity because of his intervention it brought him peace of mind and joy.
“We could walk out of Cuppa Coffee right now and before we reached the front gate, we’d be stopped a couple of times along the way,” he said. “People would thank me for helping them get a job or a scholarship.”
This invoked a long discussion about effective strategy and efficient use of time.
He had developed sample answers to the most popular questions he received. So when people asked for tips for job interviews, he’d copy and paste a detailed response or send a PDF he’d designed.
But still, I thought, even with planned responses, 500 is a lot.
Lazarus use a strategy I also use. Something called ‘incremental use of time’.
You don’t wait until the last minute and do everything in a hurry. You commit five minutes every half hour to a special task. That leaves you with 25 minutes to do everything else.
If you do this consistently, by the end of the day you’ve probably done more than an hour’s work.
However Lazarus did more than that. He would also spend lunch hours and afterwork hours replying to messages.
Lazarus said he would provide this free service for as long as he was alive.
Lazarus was a normal Kerowagi kid who used his time, energy and passion to help other people. Five minutes an hour to help other people, strangers and out own country.
In 1961, Kondom Agaundo, a Chimbu member of PNG’s first Legislative Council, was invited to give a speech in Canberra.
With his limited English, he stumbled before his all-white audience before deciding to abandon the script.
“I am a chief among my people, but now I stand here before you like a child. And when I try to speak in your language, you laugh at my words.
“But tomorrow my son will come, and he will speak to you in your own language. This time, you will not laugh at him.”
Lazarus was one of the many sons of Kondom Agaundo; members of the young elites of PNG doing great things.
And now we have lost him.