Finding a way forward despite challenges

Reuben Tabel shares the story of a teacher helping students dream of a future without tribal conflict

Anna John Lakaio is a secondary school teacher in Upper Highlands, Papua New Guinea, with over 30 years of experience. For some, that maybe just a job but for Ms Lakaio it signifies years of standing her ground against the patriarchal cultural norms of her community in Hela Province and braving tribal fighting so that children can dream of a future without conflict.

Ms Lakaio sees education as a key element for lasting change in attitude and society, be it reducing the humanitarian consequences of tribal infighting or creating a safer space for girls in the community. So, she visits primary schools to raise awareness and counsel students, bearing her own travel expenses sometimes and often ignoring those who try to put her down as "only a woman".

Reuben Tabel | ICRC

Ms Lakaio recently participated in a workshop organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Hela to address tribal fighting and impact a change of behaviour among young people, promoting restraint and reflection on the consequences of conflict. The workshop was part of the tribal fighting module, which is a long-term project and has been designed with the help of education authorities in Hela. Eleven teachers joined the workshop.

"Working as a lone woman among many men is quite challenging. They consider me inferior and I often face discrimination at various levels. I am not allowed to participate in decision-making discussions, but I keep pushing forward for the sake of the younger generation," says Ms Lakaio.

Ms Lakaio says she usually talks about two important points wherever she goes, the first is that young people need to take education seriously because it can determine their future and the second is encouraging young girls to pursue education so that they can be independent.

"Tribal fights have deeply affected many young people and destroyed their education opportunities, particularly so for girls. The conflict prevents many from going to school and undermines their hope for a promising future. Another issue is that people in Hela think girls should just stay at home and get married," she says, adding emphatically that the mindset is wrong and must be challenged.

Reuben Tabel | ICRC

Though the odds may seem stacked against Ms Lakaio's efforts, she is not backing down. She does group sessions for raising awareness among students and also offers to counsel individually.

"I want to ensure that the young people have a chance to find jobs and earn some sort of income. I try my best to push them for higher education and help the students who have not dropped out of school to enlist in the recruitment process for the Royal PNG Constabulary as police officers or the PNG Defence Force. I also help other students join the Technical Vocational Education and Training School," she says.

Being the only female worker in the Hela education department to do such kind of voluntary work, Ms Lakaio knows that many eyes are on her. She says that values like commitment and setting a good example make people respect her over time. That motivates her further to help even more young people.

Apart from engaging with Teachers on the tribal fighting module, the ICRC also supported the Hulia TVET with materials which help them build a double classroom, provided training for students to take lead in reconstruction of school infrastructure and further supplied materials for 128 persons dorimority.

The ICRC has supported other elementary and primary schools affected by tribal fights with materials. Going forward the ICRC looks at sponsoring 20 students from Komo Magarima District to take up various trade courses in the Hulia TVET as part of its assistance support to the communities affected by tribal fight.

ICRC values the importance of Education and have been working closely with the Provincial Education Division and schools to ensure important messages on access to education is disseminated to students, teachers and communities, while providing support where it could.