Feature Image: Ambullua, Eastern Highlands PNG – Year 6 – 1986
By Camilla Loveridge
From 1983 to 1985 I taught ESL and Art/Craft at “Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School” in Rabaul (PNG), and then in 1986 I lectured at Holy Trinity Teachers’ College in Mount Hagen (PNG). I simply loved my time there, as challenging as it was. Often since my life in PNG I have reflected on the uncertainties of living in a developing country, and the coping mechanisms that I had to consequently develop at that time. I believe my experience as a volunteer stood me in good stead for my life forward in Australia. I grew to develop compassion for people born without privilege within my own community – and a greater sense of the world at large, to this day.
Reflecting now on my teaching in Rabaul and Mt Hagen, my advice to intending volunteers would be to show genuine interest in the richness of cultures, and to develop programs of teaching that celebrate such richness. As a teacher educator in Mt. Hagen, I had to spend weeks at a time away from the college in very remote highland villages. Classrooms at that time were very humble, and the supply of electricity was unpredictable. Gently, gently communication between myself and my students opened up, and our worlds were shared. I walked with students to their villages on weekends. Nothing was rushed. I had to speak English to them, of course, but it also helped foster bonding as I learnt phrases of my students’ own dialect. To the elderly villagers, however, I spoke a simple Pigin.
As I write, so many memories flood back. I need just pick out one…..the afternoon I flew into Ambullua. Situated in the Western Highlands (pretty much at cloud level!), Ambullua was a small village where I spent a month as a new teacher, training other young teachers. I was certainly the one in training…. learning about education at the very grass root level. Fr Jan, a Polish priest, lived at Ambullua at that time. He ran a small mission station there, and was a gentle person who earned the respect of his parishioners. I learned a lot from him about just living humbly. Back to my story…flying into Ambullua was – hair raising. Its airstrip was a mountain ridge that was levelled off, and JUST long enough – with sheer precipices either side. Landing that day between cloud breaks was a moment in my life that I will never forget. And what followed was totally unexpected…As I stepped out of the Cessna, the WHOLE village was there on the edges of the airstrip to greet me. Fr Jan was the first. He then took my backpack and told me to shake every hand… a hundred or more. I felt literally in the clouds! As we ALL walked down the mountain track to the village together, there was singing…it was so surreal and beautiful!
I wish all intending volunteers the blessings of rich experience, that comes from sharing between cultures across the globe. There is nothing quite like connecting with humanity through voluntary service.