On World Teacher’s Day what better time to herald an organisation that aims to offer equal access to education for every PNG child. Buk bilong Pikinini (BbP) has libraries across PNG that offer access to early years education, for every child, for free. In a system where education comes at a price this is invaluable.
BbP was established in 2008 in Port Moresby General Hospital. Six years and sixteen libraries later, not only does BbP provide underprivileged children with access to books and other learning materials within the libraries, it delivers an increasingly comprehensive early years literacy program. The libraries are located in and around settlement areas to engage children from underprivileged backgrounds with positive learning opportunities. Currently there are over 1,500 children enrolled in BbP libraries across the country.
The second BbP centre to open in April in the Highlands town of Goroka is based at the University and offers free schooling for the surrounding children who predominantly come from the many settlements in the vicinity. It is a beautifully situated library that looks out to the mountains and is vibrantly decorated and child centred inside.
The BbP library is run by three teacher librarian assistants (TLA), all of whom are clearly passionate about the work being done by BbP. Jenny Wayafa is the head librarian: “I wanted to work with BbP as it’s all about the most vulnerable children in our society. I worked as a TA in international education for 10 years, the parents of the children who went there have a lot of money, this isn’t the case for the majority of Papua New Guineans which means a lot of children are missing out. I was passionate about working for BbP to impart my knowledge and have an impact in their young lives. Parents come and tell us that children are learning good things and that they are changing.”
Sitting in the vibrant, print rich library with the fully engaged children it is clear the value that BbP has. Life as a young person in a settlement is a stark contrast. Christine Joshua, TLA, reflects on what life for disadvantaged children would be like without the libraries: “The education system is very low in PNG and without BbP the children would have a lack of knowledge and would just roam around the village, often with no one to look after them. BbP is a safe place come to learn and prepare them for mainstream school.”
Dorothy Wsik, is Mother of five-year-old Charlie. She lives in Agopea block, a settlement close to the new Goroka library. She has been amazed at the transformation in her son: “It is good because many of us are living in settlements and it is free. It means the children learn more before going to elementary school otherwise they would just be in the house or playing and wouldn’t learn to read. Charlie has learnt the date and the days of the week and he keeps asking me what day it is! He is now speaking a little English as well and without this he would struggle at school.” Dorothy is Mum to four boys, none of whom had any early learning schooling and she has already seen a significant difference.
Voluntary Services Overseas has had a long relationship with BbP, providing volunteer support to the running of the valuable service. Currently Rowan Southwell, VSO volunteer from the UK, is working as the Education Program Facilitator for BbP to support the librarians’ professional development through a combination of group training and working with them individually in the libraries: “Buk bilong Pikinini is rapidly becoming a major player in the education landscape of PNG, especially in poorer areas. This brings with it many challenges and opportunities and as a VSO volunteer it is very exciting to be able to contribute to this development. It has been a real privilege to be working with the passionate and committed BbP team at Head Office, with teacher-librarians, and children who are so captivated by books and eager to learn.”