Seeing the life that Paul Titus has given to his family today, it is hard to imagine the difficulties he went through as a child.
Paul Titus was born in 1982. His mother, Kama Bertha, gave birth to him in a hut in Dulai village in the Simbu province. The family lived a typical rural existence surrounded by a close-knit clan.
Paul lived a carefree existence. But at the age of eight, his father, Yol’s health was failing. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer when the illness was already in its advanced stages.
Kama was at the time, expecting their third child and could not accompany Yol to Goroka General Hospital where they hoped he would get treatment for the cancer.
“The village contributed money. They had to sell pigs. Two of my paternal uncles, took my father to Goroka.”
But instead of caring for Paul’s father, they split up the money.
“One went to Kimbe and the other went to Port Moresby. My father was uncared for. Because the hospital had a policy that would not allow patients to stay without guardians, he had to be sent back. He spent three days at a Kilau Aid Post, which was near our village and then he died.”
Without a father, life became tough for the young family.
As a young widow with children living among her husband’s people, Kama faced a lot of challenges. In the traditional polygamous society, new suitors emerged within her dead husband’s clan and many of their wives were very angry.
“Some of my uncles tried to marry my mum as their second wife. My mum was with us to support us. Some of our uncles were generous. They gave us land to make our gardens and they would show concern. But their wives were not happy with it. So they would accuse their husbands of showing interest to my mother.”
Kama suffered abuse from the wives of her brothers-in-law over a period of two years. Paul watched as his mother was accused and attacked in the village.
“I witnessed two separate incidents. On one occasion, two women came and physically fought with her because their husband bought lollies for us.
“I was frustrated and angry that my mother had to go through this. I wished I was older so I could make gardens and stand up to those women. What my mum went through was all unnecessary.
“After two years, mum left us to marry someone else. She couldn’t take it any more.”
He was left in the care of his father’s clan. For the rest of his childhood, Paul Titus’ story played out like a fictional TV series about life and struggles complete with protagonists and antagonists hated and despised.
“When you are fatherless. People don’t treat you well. When you live with extended family, they will take care of their own kids before they take care of you. So I had to work for my food. I struggled with clothes, money and food.
“I worked to fetch water in bamboo containers and carry it over long distances.”
Life threw obstacle after obstacle at Paul Titus.
“My sister-in-law helped me with school fees for one year in high school. After grade 10, I didn’t get an offer. So I went and worked at a fuel station. Then I went and did some missionary work in the prison.”
Later, Paul found that there was space at the Popondetta Agricultural College.
“I went and asked if I could be enrolled as a self-sponsored student. There were seven spaces left. I paid half the fees and got in.”
After a whole life of struggles, the blessings were slowly trickling in. At the end of his course, The New Zealand Government announced that applications were open for their Aotearoa Scholarships.
The odds of Paul getting a New Zealand Government scholarship were against him. There were 200 applicants and one of the basic requirements was a grade 12 certificate. He didn’t have one.
“I was a Grade 10 drop out and they wanted Grade 12s. But I still applied and out of 200, I was selected.”
In 2002, Paul Titus left Papua New Guinea and traveled to New Zealand on a new adventure, this time in total control of his own life and future.
After 2005, when he completed undergraduate studies in New Zealand, Paul returned to Papua New Guinea. For the child left fatherless at eight and abandoned by his mother at 10, he had a lot to fix.
Paul tracked down his mother and found her in Port Moresby. After leaving the children, Kama Bertha had married a truck driver from another village and went to live in Lae, then Port Moresby.
After years of being angry about her abandoning him and his brothers, he finally let it go.
“It took me at least 20 years to forgive her. I was 28 when I finished my undergrad studies. When I got back, I hired a car, had her sit in front and I told her that I forgiven her.
“She cried and she was embarrassed. She said she didn’t deserve all this. But I said: you are my mother and that’s it.
It was one of the most difficult chapters of his story and he took at least three years to prepare for that meeting.
“When we met, I went and embraced her and just cried. I didn’t say anything for a while. I just listened. I guess that’s all you can do. Listen.
Years later, as an adult, Paul came to better understand the difficulties his mother had gone through and the decision she made. While Kama Bertha may have left them without a mother, the children remained with their clansmen and in a place they belonged.
“When I was young I didn’t understand why she left. Later, I appreciated what she did. Even when mum left and married someone else, I now appreciate the difficulties she was going through.”
Nearly 30 years after his uncles abandoned his father in Goroka Hospital, Paul returned to his Dilau village for revenge. After completing his post graduate studies, he bought a shotgun with the intention to kill them both.
“You know, those two guys… the guys who left my father to die are still alive. I put them in front of the hausman and I showed them the gun and the money they took. I told them, that I brought the gun to kill you both because of what you did to my father.
“But God changed my heart. I kissed their feet and I let it go.”