A Minutes With Mike - Illusions and delusions

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 8/26/97.

April 30, 1997
ĒAs for doing-good, that is one of the professions which are full.Ē
Henry David Thoreau


My two years in the Peace Corps wonít be comprised exclusively with the uplifting scenes that fill those commercials. Theyíre right to call it ďthe toughest job youíll ever love,Ē but they donít show any tough parts. Yes, there are ďPeace Corps momentsĒ-seeing a studentís eyes light up in class, sharing a hearty laugh, and building friendships.

In the commercials though, the volunteers are always making a difference. Really, I spend most of my time living a routine: sleeping, cooking, working, and keeping myself entertained.

I came with 45 other volunteers, and almost 20 have left. I donít know all the reasons-medical, personal, family emergencies, etc.-but itís safe to say a factor was that the moments worthy of commercials were too few and the frustrations too many.

I find living here personally rewarding, though challenging, and professionally a struggle. I enjoy teaching math, and I like my students, but the administration, or lack thereof, can be trying. It helps to keep expectations low. I canít seem to set mine low enough to completely avoid exasperation.

Hereís a quick list of complaints. One teacher, actually my superior in the math department, has missed six weeks of school. Some teachers sleep through afternoon classes, break rules they expect students to follow, and generally act unprofessionally. Then they refer to themselves as ďeducated elites.Ē Is this what Iím helping to create?

Money is short, but isnít spent wisely. Our budget wasnít made until three months of school were completed. Before that we bought a new truck for K40,000. We traded our old truck for a snazzy-looking pickup, then spent K6,000 for repairs. Then we berate the students to pay their school fees, threatening that school will need to be closed for lack of food if they donít scrape the money together. Huh? We just sent our new truck to Wewak for the first time, in a convoy with our old truck. Iím no accountant, but when money is so short you might not be able to buy food, you shouldnít be updating your transportation.

My main contribution to the running of the school so far is my refusing to share water with the headmaster and his family. Itís amazing how water suddenly became important when his family had to go to the river to wash. Tanks were moved into place. Gutters were fixed. The headmaster gave the provincial governor a letter saying that the number one need of the school was a water supply system, which costs K35,000. Huh??

I donít think that will ever make a Peace Corps commercial-me standing on my porch refusing this darling little girl a bucket of water.

A conversation I had with a friend, since departed, keeps coming to mind. After touring the squatter settlements outside Port Moresby a year ago, she questioned the priorities. Kids drinking pop, but not having clean water. Houses with televisions, but running their sewage into the street. Poor priorities is how the national government can find millions to kill their own citizens on Bougainville, but the Lumi Health Centre receives K1,000 this year for fuel, maintenance, food, and supplies. (Salaries and medicines are provided elsewhere.) Patients donít complain about the food; there is no food provided.

Papua New Guinea is a resource-rich country. It has unspoiled natural resources-minerals, timber, fish, and fertile soil-still owned by the people.

How do you help? A village near here received the materials for a water tank from a donor organization. They said they wanted a safe water supply, but a year later the tank is still in pieces. They havenít put it together yet.

ďBe sure that you give the poor the aid they really need,Ē wrote Thoreau, ďthough it be your example which leaves them far behind.Ē

(Michael Jacobson was a reporter for the Paynesville Press before joining the Peace Corps.)

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