First Impressions of Banz-PNG: Sad To Leave

First Impressions of Banz-PNG: Sad To Leave

By Greg Lawson

Greg Lawson began his mentoring role with Good Shepherd Seminary in Banz, PNG, late January 2020.  His role included building teachers’ capacity to deliver English language courses as well as mentoring student’s in academic writing, reading comprehension and spoken English. His other focus was to review record-keeping procedures and mentor the current bursar in existing record-keeping tools and software. Unfortunately due to COVID-19, Greg decided to return home to Queensland before border closures were imposed.

From our orientation in Sydney to landing in Mt Hagen there were seven months. Christine had told me the wheel turns slowly in PNG, how slow, I was about to find out. 

Arriving on a delayed flight, Fr Mel the Rector of the Good Shepherd Seminary was there to meet me and my “far too much” luggage. Fr Mel explained we had a way to go and the road was pretty bad. How bad?  I can honestly say it’s the worst road I have ever been on and I’ve been on some bad ones. The potholes were enormous, the wash outs were many and the “dodge em” drivers were frightening. No keeping left, just keep missing the oncoming cars or trucks or people moving vehicles and you’ll get there. Little did I know I would be travelling that road twice a week to buy supplies from Mt Hagen.

The Seminary is situated in a picturesque valley, surrounded by mountains and lush forest. Fruit and vegetables are grown everywhere. There are a number of markets between Mt Hagen and Banz where pedestrians seem oblivious of traffic. The seminary cooks buy their fruit and vegetables at the Banz market which has an incredible array of fresh food.

I thought I was going there as an English teacher and Assistant Bursar, but that quickly changed. Fr Mel took me to the Bursar’s office and said this is where you’ll be working. He had been working as the Bursar and the Rector and found it very difficult to combine the two. He showed me the computer and the cash draw and said this is what you do.

From there, I worked every day. So much for the “softly, softly” approach.  Bro. Simon from the Archdiocese, who looks after GST claims has a good idea of the Bursar’s job – he worked with me with the idea that he’d take over when I leave.  I oversaw everything to do with the running of the Seminary: buying food;  banking (AT least 1 hour at the bank);  petty cash; stationery; computers; wages, and most of all reconciling the monthly expenditure.  I found there needed to be more checks and balances, so set up new procedures for receipts/ purchases.  I was also the Secretary for all meetings, and my new role also included preparing the annual budget. I am continuing to volunteer remotely whilst at  home and hope to have the budget finished soon. This was all quite a culture jolt for me, having led a life of leisure in retirement and expecting a slow uptake of duties.

My role included three hours a week teaching English. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Must be in the genes as my identical twin Graham has taught for 50 years, the majority of these at Marist Brothers, Ashgrove. The young men I taught had a wonderful sense of humour so that suited me. We read a lot, and I mean a lot. The grammar, punctuation and spelling was the focus of my attention. The students would concentrate so hard on their work.  I encouraged students, during conversations or reading,  to say “full stop, question mark or comma etc. This certainly brought a lot of humour into the learning. Considering the students speak three languages, tribal, Pisin and English they did very well.

I really enjoyed the overall companionship in the short time I was there. I tried to involve myself in the lives of the staff who work particularly hard for not much. I was also fortunate to have another Palms volunteer working there: Dr Charles Dufour teaches philosophy, and has taken on a huge workload, 16 lessons a week. Charles has decided to stay in Banz to help in this time of need which shows a real Palms spirit.

It was sad to leave, but in the 8 weeks there I hope it was a better place. I’ll miss the singing, and the way the gifts are taken to the altar.  Gerard the Librarian will teach English and Fr Mel methodology. I hope to go back when this pandemic is under control although at my age it may not be for two years. I received a lovely letter from Stella the secretary which in part read, “Thank you very much for your time with us, and your concern for us. I hope you will travel safe and stay safe”.

Thanks to Palms for giving me the opportunity to share in the lives of others. We certainly are privileged to have our lifestyle here in Australia yet many still complain. I did not hear one complaint from anyone in the Western Highlands. They don’t have much, they don’t want much, yet they seem happy most of the time!

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