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Rippling journey brought 400 books to Kelkei

| Melanesian Women Today

Teacher Regina Manga shows the new books to her students at Kelkei Elementary School

BAINBRIDGE, USA - The impact of one book on a community is incalculable. But what about 400 books?

Over a two-year period, the group Melanesian Women Today has diligently worked to provide an essential resource to a small, remote school at Kelkei near Kendeng village in Papua New Guinea.

Books are a key component of literacy, education and emotional intelligence, so when inaccessible literature becomes an obstacle, how do we combat it?

In 2020, Odyssey Middle School on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, USA, became involved in what would become an exemplary project to fill the Kelkei Elementary and Adult Literacy school’s community library and bolster its low literacy rates.

The passion for this project came out of the classroom of seventh and eighth graders who imagined how students like themselves lacked the novels, fiction, fantasy, poetry, and stories to enrich their everyday lives.

The literacy rate in PNG is an estimated 62%, which means a large portion of the population faces the challenges that come with illiteracy.

Illiteracy remains a global issue that further impoverishes communities and perpetuates a cycle of low education investments resulting in unemployment, health issues and underdeveloped infrastructure.

In contrast, the correlation between literacy and higher standards of living is undeniable.

Melanesian Women Today continues to think globally about why tackling illiteracy should be an international priority while choosing to act locally by partnering with Kelkei.

The school is in Jiwaka Province in the Highlands, a region of around 300,000 people with a rich Indigenous culture.

The call to action spread across Bainbridge Island in a successful book drive in February and March of 2020 which accumulated 379 books.

But the momentum to send them to PNG hit an impasse when Covid-19 hit Washington State and the project was temporarily immobilised by the complications of the pandemic brought.

It took a full year before the teachers and students resumed the project in a creative and unexpected way.

Heather Visser, an Odyssey parent, connected the project with the Holland America Line who agreed to deliver the books to PNG free of charge on one of its cruises.

This allowed the hundreds of books to be transported, a task that had previously proven so challenging.

The photos taken of dozens of boxes being rolled onto the ship, the students and volunteers looking on in the background, invoked satisfying feelings of movement regained, of one community responding to the needs of another.

The remote Kelkei School library aims to serve as a hub of education and place of connection to the world outside.

Libraries have special value in a place with sparse television and internet availability.

When a communal effort to build a library at the school was successful, the community faced a new problem - what was a library with no books?

The book project coordinator that Melanesian Women Today later worked with was struggling to acquire funds and contributions to fill the library.

This was the point at which, Meré Sovick, founder of Melanesian Women Today, became inspired to get involved and Bainbridge and Kelkei forged a school to school and student-student relationship.

The school is located in a largely inaccessible area in steep mountainous-terrain.

Papua New Guinea is a resource-rich country but almost 40% percent of its population lives in poverty.

When the Covid outbreak eased, the project restarted ant at Bainbridge a new group of students was excited to be involved.

After the books were transported by Holland America from Washington State to Alotau in Milne Bay, Air Niugini agreed to fly the boxes to Lae and from there they were trucked into the Highands.

Pauline Woti, director of the Kelkei Elementary and Adult Literacy School, and her husband John made the seven-hour drive themselves to get the books as close as they could to their new home.

When the truck got as far as it could, they were greeted by the villagers, including many mothers of students, who, barefoot, carried the boxes to Kelkei school.

It had been a long and complex journey to help strengthen local literacy and learning through reading.

“It had an effect on the students, but also on the many people who got involved because they too wanted to help,” said Méré Sovick.

“The ripple effect can be felt by the village of Kendeng where the school is.

“They have been so impacted by this project that they are planning a huge event that will bring people together from nearby villages to celebrate.”

The joy of the community was shared by the group of hardworking students at Odyssey, who were able to see the journey of the books come to completion.


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