Our Volunteers: Colin McDermott volunteering in Papua New Guinea

Mercy Secondary School, Papua New Guinea

'Car Pooling' is more economically and environmentally friendly for these East Sepik students.
Mercy Secondary School provides education for girls in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. It has recently been upgraded from High School to Secondary School, meaning that it will now provide classes up to year 12. As part of this upgrade, a computer room to seat 40 students has been built.

Due to it’s rugged terrain and often unreliable postal and phone systems, computers have emerged as an important part of Papua New Guinea’s information and communication systems. For many young women, their best chance of finding work lies in the attainment of secretarial, administrative and computer skills.

Sister Agnes Murphy, RSM, placed a request with Palms Australia to provide a volunteer to teach students computer skills, train teachers in computer use and maintenance and manage the new computer network.

Colin McDermott

Colin McDermottColin is responsible for teaching Information Technology to year 11 and 12 students and providing computer training for the staff of Mercy Secondary School. He is managing and maintaining the computer network for the school and will develop procedures and documents for its future use. He will work closely with local staff to develop their skills in information management and computer maintenance.

Colin is a computer science graduate and trained secondary teacher in Information Technology and Mathematics. He has previously worked providing training in computer assembly and maintenance to refugees in Australia, including many for whom English is a second language. Palms Australia and Mercy Secondary School believe Colin is very well equipped for the task.

Colin McDermott’s CommUNITY News no. 2

June 11, 2007

Colin's Maths class
Planting by And

Come every Sunday in Australia, no matter where we lived we would always hear a mechanical roar. That roar usually belonged to a hefty lawnmower as it purred along an evenly layed field of green grass (or in some cases, a frustrated owner roaring at their infernal machine to start). In PNG I can still hear the grass being mowed, just this time it is done by 500 girls as they march, machetes in hand, across Mercy school’s never ending open grass.

Mowing a lawn by hand is not an easy task. To do so, one starts with a sharpish machete in one hand, raise it above one’s head (without hitting the person behind them) and whisk it down to devour the grass beneath. When the students do it, it’s like they are waving a magic wand that just melts the grass it touches. When the ex-pat teacher [Colin] gives it a go, it’s like watching the hippos in Fantasia. Very funny to see, though potentially a danger to life and limb.

When the students cut grass, it’s like they are waving a magic wand that just melts the grass.

Mowing the lawn, PNG style
Hence, knowing the labour involved I was very surprised by an offer from my grade 11 maths class: Sir, we are going to mow your lawn today, after work parade. The entire class had talked about it in depth and everyone had agreed to spend their free time chopping down my grass. Naturally I was quite taken aback, but the entire class of 40 students had decided that they were going to do this for Mr McDermott and I could not argue with them.

So after doing 2 hours of work parade, my lawn was surrounded by students as they chopped my grass. They whisked their semi-blunt machetes across my harvest of wheat grass. Soon all the grass started to vanish beneath my eyes (actually it did not vanish but instead was heaped up in large piles in front of my lawn to be burnt). It took them two to three hours to cut it all down. I was impressed (remember that there were forty of them).

After the grass cutting, some of the girls planted flowers and one batch were digging a large hole. I looked to see what they were doing and after a few minuted they came and gave me a fresh coconut to plant. They explained they wanted me to plant something by my own and. I pointed to my hand with a quizzical look. Yes, by your and. Oh, by my hand! No, your and and I came to learn that the Pidgin word for hand was ‘and’.

By planting something, there will always be something to show you were there.

Colin and students plant a tree 'by and'
So I bent down on and and knee, positioning a coconut in place to be planted. It will be the first thing I have planted in PNG to grow (I hope). One of the students explained the tradition of planting something. If you plant something then you are leaving your mark on the land. So by planting something there will always be something to show you were there. So I slowly covered my first seedlings with my ands, patting the ground gently.

I guess I might just make a mark after all.
Colin McDermott.

Food for thought

Mutually enriching relationships

The third aspect of Palms Australia's mission statement is:

  • To advance mutually enriching and challenging relationships of acceptance, understanding and care, to the point of sharing worlds of meaning in the deepest sense, with people of a culture different from one's own.

This is demonstrated in almost every letter Palms receives from volunteers in the field and in the reports from our partner organisations. The humility with which our volunteers enter their positions, the willingness to share their skills and knowledge but also to learn from the experience of others, builds relationships which are based upon "acceptance, understanding and care" instead of power, instruction and outcomes.

Colin is earning no more than any other teacher in PNG. This means he cannot afford a "rich expat" lifestyle and depends on the community as much as they depend on him. His students recognise this and volunteered for him as he had volunteered for them. The mutual respect developed will greatly assist him in achieving sustainable development through teaching the students and training the IT teachers. Many seeds are being planted.

Through Colin's stories and others on our website, we hope that you too can be enriched and challenged by learning from those of a culture different from your own.


Papua New Guinea Field Trip

March 23, 2007

“It is sometimes difficult to imagine that much change can be made, but each Palms volunteer I visited was testament to the possibilities.”

Click here to read the full article

Colin McDermott’s CommUNITY News no. 1

January 11, 2007

I have been spreading open source software when I can, and it has had a bit of success. Downloading is sadly a little hard to do without an internet connection so I haven’t been able to do great leaps. There seems a culture of paying for computer software firmly established, piracy is not that wide spread at all! So people will spend K700 on Microsoft Office when they can get OpenOffice freely.

Click here to read the full article

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Papua New Guinea

PNG Flag

Population: 7,656,959

Area: 462,840 sq. km.

Median Age: 21.5

Literacy: 57.3 %

Languages: Tok Pisin (New Guinea Pidgin), English, Motu, c.820 indigenous languages

The terrain of Papua New Guinea varies from its rugged mountainous spine to its beautiful beaches to its volcanic islands to one of the world’s largest swamps and the large river systems of the Sepik and Fly rivers. These geographical differences have created a unique country with many diverse cultures. The ties within a family […]

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Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.
It is man made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. - Nelson Mandela