Friends of Coolum Library delight PNG students with the gift of reading
  • Friday 10 April 2015

Yalumgwa Elementary School students, located on the remote Kiriwina Island in Papua New Guinea, have been given the gift of reading by two Friends of Coolum Beach Library.

Frances and John Windolf travelled to the northern side of Papua New Guinea on a cruise in February, visiting several places on the mainland as well as a number of islands.

A couple of days before they departed on their cruise, a friend who had recently made a similar trip suggested they take gifts of chalk and books as they would be greatly appreciated by schools in the area.

“We were told school children use chalk to write on slates until Grade 4 level and we thought this was a great idea. So we purchased several boxes of chalk at our local shop and then went to Coolum Library to look at the resale trolley which is a popular feature at the entrance,” Frances said.

“We are both frequent users of Coolum Library, and members of the 'Friends' group, so were well aware of the quality of the 'pre-used' books available.

“To our delight, the library staff had been weeding through the children's collection and there was a wide range of simple, colourful books on the trolley which we gathered up with the intention of purchasing.

“Coolum Library suggested that these books could be donated by the Friends of Coolum Library, if we repaired them and affixed suitable donation labels.

" As a former teacher-librarian, this was an easy task, and the books soon looked like new again.”

Frances said their initial intention was to deliver the books to an elementary school in Wewak, a town on the far north coast of PNG which had never been visited by cruise ships before.

“However, although we were able to sail into the Wewak Harbour, it was declared that the swell was too great for passengers to disembark," she said.

"We were pleased that we had not been able to make prior arrangements with a school in Wewak as we would have hated to disappoint them.

“By chance, we had met and socialised with an entertainer from Cairns and her mother on board the ship who was born on Kiriwina Island in the Trobriand Island group.

“She contacted the Yalumgwa Elementary School and organised transport for us as this school was some 10 kilometres from where we disembarked, and had never had tourists visiting before.”

Yalumgwa Elementary School has 138 pupils aged from about nine. The simple school building is divided into two areas by a shoulder-height partition and houses most of these children, with an overflow class using a nearby church hall.

Until the end of 2014, all classes were taught in the local language, but as of January 2015, the government has decreed that all lessons must be taught in English.

Teachers had brightened the school with home-made educational posters, but there were no books available to students.

Frances said they were greeted with great joy, and much formal ceremony, including the singing of the school anthem and the raising of flags.

“The school chairman, a local dignitary, formally welcomed us, and then asked us to make a speech, which he translated for the students, before we presented the books.

After this, we were surrounded by delighted children
“Contact with Kiriwina is difficult, with no telephone or internet communication in the school area, however we hope to keep in touch with the Yalumgwa School in the future.

“We greatly thank Coolum Library for helping us to assist the school, its teachers, and its delightful students.”