We have been blessed recently to receive a number of emails and letters from returned volunteers dating back to PALMS’ earliest years. Featured here are the recollections of Colleen Keating of her time in Madang over 40 years ago.
I was part of the founding team at Divine Word High School, later to become Divine Word Institute and now, an established University. The school from the beginning was co-educational and an all boarding school.
Our original team comprised two Divine Word priests from USA, a Divine Word brother from Germany and myself. I was Science teacher and in charge of girls.
We taught everything. I was a NSW state trained science teacher with three years experience. Setting up the laboratory and seeing the excitement of these eager youngsters was an amazing experience. In the second year I set up the schools library, mostly with books collected, and donated from my St. Kevin’s Parish in Eastwood.
The school began with Year 7 and each year added another grade. In our third year we sat our students for the NSW Intermediate and topped all of PNG. The sports teams excelled.
We all worked so hard and gave our fledgling school a great start. The village elders were concerned that girls going to the “big town” – Madang, might become pregnant. This did not happen, our reputation grew and girls as well as boys received a quality education. It was an exciting beginning and the first time girls were allowed to leave their villages and come to the town for schooling.
The students came from all over PNG – Manam Island, Mt Hagen, Wewak, Bundi… They arrived with their possessions wrapped in scarves and we gave them each a grey blanket for their bed. However they received a great education, they loved their school, and were proud of who they were.
When I came back to Sydney in 1970, I intended to have a year’s break, pick up some new skills and return as a missionary. I met my future husband, also a science teacher and we went on to marry and have a wonderful family. They are now 25 – 35 years old and all have their own lives. But for a long time my heart was on that island.
Some of my colleagues and best friends have passed on. Some have retired to other life styles. Others continue to be active in modern PNG. It remains an amazing part of my life’s journey.
44 years later, Palms and Divine Word University maintain a strong partnership, with Palms Volunteers still contributing to the education opportunities available to Papua New Guineans.
We welcome more stories from returnees which demonstrate the value of volunteering, for publication in Palms Post or online during this Jubilee Year. Please send your stories and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.