Allan Ekel, a 65-year-old returning to school with hopes of inspiring youths in his community to stay away from lawlessness and go to school. Photo: Samuel Bariasi/ICRC

Papua New Guinea: 65-year-old goes back to school to inspire change in community

It is not every day you find a 65-year-old student in high school. Allan Ekel from Mulitaka in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea, has an extraordinary story. Not only is he sharing a Grade 9 classroom this year with students four times younger than him, but he has also been appointed as the student council’s president at Mulitaka High School.
Article 13 November 2023 Papua New Guinea

Exuding youthful enthusiasm, he says his decision to return to school after 43 years – he had completed Grade 6 in 1980 – stems from his passion for influencing the youth in his community to get an education and not engage in violence. A respected community leader who was also a ward councillor for 15 years, Ekel had been helping the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reach people affected by violence in his community. That led him to think about long-term change in his community.

Maip-Mulitaka is prone to tribal violence in which many are killed, injured, or displaced and farmland and property are destroyed. The community recently experienced a big tribal fight that resulted in houses and gardens being destroyed and hundreds of families being displaced.

"The whole community suffers because of the actions of a few," says Ekel. He goes on to explain why he thinks education can be part of the solution to end violence in the community.

People need to have the right mindset and attitude. They can receive help from the government, donors, or humanitarian organizations in their time of need, but it would not bring lasting change if they don't change the way they think and behave. Therefore, I have been urging young people to go to school and get a different perspective on life.

Allan Ekel

Ekel decided that the best way to impact the youth and inspire them would be to lead by example. And it has had the desired effect. “I have seen many young people enrolling in school after I enrolled. I am excited to be in school and I will be happy to continue if I perform well,” he says, adding that he would like to be a teacher and continue to inspire young people to be good citizens.

Ekel also wants to build a resource centre to teach life skills to people in his community and help them earn sustainable livelihoods. "People affected by violence in my community often do not have the means to rebuild their lives. The ICRC's support is crucial in this regard." he says.

The ICRC is supporting affected villages in Mulitaka to rebuild their food and economic security and have better access to healthcare facilities. We provided at least 5,000 people in the area with shelter toolkits, seeds, and building tools. We also gave small grants to a group of women to help them rebuild their lives and sustain themselves.


ICRC staff distributing tools and seeds to people affected by tribal violence in Mulitaka, Enga Province

Similar assistance is also given to communities affected by tribal violence in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces. The ICRC also helps affected communities in Enga, Southern Highlands, and Hela provinces retain or regain safe access to education through its protection and assistance programmes and through partnerships with local education authorities and other organizations.