I came to Tapini believing I would be teaching only music. As it turns out I also teach social science and IT. In my remaining free periods I take many cover classes for several teachers who once went on term holidays and never returned. At the end of the day I change my hat and start my job as Boy’s Boarding Master.
Sacred Heart High School has been my base. I live on the school grounds together with over 200 boarding students as well as all staff. On the whole my job is enjoyable; however it can be very exhausting. Some weeks I can work up to 80 hours. Most days begin at 6am where I do an hour work parade with the students on my landscaping project. From there on we move into classes till about 4pm. During the evenings students have a two hours study period, so I normally stay in my music room to do some work and assist students seeking help. After study period I usually roam around the dorms making sure the boys are well behaved and not sneaking off. By 10pm I try to be in bed.
Tapini is a small government station in the mountainous Central Province, half an hour flight from Port Moresby. In recent years the station has been run by the Catholic mission, which has now well established the only functional primary and secondary school, as well as the only health centre in the entire district. In 1995 the mission obtained AusAID funding of almost AUD 4 million. This money saw the refurbishment of the town water supply and the hydro-electricity plant which had been washed away by a landslide several years earlier. Both schools also received a major face lift and departments were stocked with much needed resources.
“My social interaction with the students is probably my most enjoyable element of life here in Tapini. “
My role as boy’s boarding master basically means I look after any issues arising in dormitory life and all 190 boys who live there. Jobs include getting up at 1am and chasing boys back inside the dorms as they managed to get out; getting up at 2am to calm down an entire dormitory of screaming boys because someone saw a ghost – AGAIN! (Ghosts make a regular appearance!); giving advice to the new students who just came out of the village for the first time about how to use a toilet, and the importance of toilet paper; dealing with problem residents; and attending to any needs which may exist. Students often say they prefer to live at the dormitories than in the village, as here they have a proper mattress to sleep on, a strong timber building, electricity, running water, three meals a day, and, of course…TV!
Naturally some days are harder than others, especially when dealing with the lack of resources due to the isolation. I have lost a considerable amount of weight, but on the occasional trip to Moresby I manage to stock up on some of the bare essentials – baked beans and meat. Generally I am being well looked after, the locals enjoy having me around. Sometimes I feel like a celebrity when walking around the station, the people all love to say hello, have a chat, and they refer to me as “White Maan”. Often the local ladies at the market gift me with locally grown food.
My social interaction with the students is probably my most enjoyable element of life here in Tapini. Especially because of my job as boarding master I spend a lot of time with the boys after school. They love to spend time with me, tell stories, make fun, and just acting as teenagers do. Maybe that’s what I’ll miss the most one day when I finally leave.
Teaching students from a disadvantaged area can be academically challenging. Many of our students have not received proper education at their primary school and struggle with basic literacy and numeracy skills. There is much work still to do here in Tapini, but so far I feel my work here has been a highly rewarding experience for both myself and the school community.