Papua New Guinea (PNG) has one of the lowest literacy rates in the Pacific which has been a cause for concern for many years.

Recognising this challenge, the Papua New Guinea Australia Alumni Association’s (PNGAAA) Milne Bay Chapter took the initiative to assist school-aged children in remote areas in Milne Bay Province by providing basic reading books.

Since the inception of the Chapter in 2018, hundreds of library books have been distributed to over 40 rural elementary and primary schools through the ‘ship-to-shelf’ initiative in Milne Bay. Distribution was halted in 2020 due to COVID-19 and recommenced this year thanks to PNGAAA and Books 4 PNG Kids, a Brisbane based book collection organisation.

The latest donation in early October saw close to 143 boxes of junior fiction books distributed to ten mountain and coastal schools in the Weraura Local Level Government (LLG) in Alotau District. The donated library books were shipped to Port Moresby at the expense of Books 4 PNG Kids then transported to Alotau with the assistance of the Conflict Island Resort through the MV Undersea Explorer.

The Chapter applied for K23,000 under the PNGAAA Alumni Grants Scheme to assist with storage and transportation of the books throughout Milne Bay and the neighbouring provinces. Unloading hundreds of boxes and sorting them for the respective schools can be laborious but alumni happily volunteered their time and efforts.

“Our dream is to reach every local level government in the province, targeting very rural and remote communities which have not been supported previously. We also aim to maintain our book depot through the Alumni Grants Scheme to cater for more storage space as we plan to reach the border provinces as well,” said Milne Bay Chapter President Dickson Kenas.

“This book initiative has greatly improved the reading and writing skills of students. One of our female students from Agaun Primary School in the Daga LLG topped Milne Bay Province in the Grade 8 National English Exams in 2020 scoring 43 out of 50,” said Agaun Primary School Senior Teacher Lavenda Boredi.

Retired public servants and senior citizens are using the book initiative to encourage places of learning through cultural exhibitions and crafts.

“We hope that community resource centres will be built in every ward and village in Milne Bay through this initiative where learning and reading has been lost over the years,” said Chapter Secretary and Book Coordinator Martha Wame.

One recipient is a blind woman who organises books for elementary students at schools in her ward. Another recipient, a retired couple, shares books with children with special needs children who cannot attend school on their island community due to the unavailability of a special needs teacher.