Wionare Mitimu may be small in stature, but he is a powerful force in his community.
The Bible translator and language preschool teacher trainer is responsible for the establishment of 27 language preschools and the training of 67 teachers in three language groups in one of the most inaccessible areas of the Raikos District of Madang Province.
In 1981, Wionare completed grade six in the Eastern Highlands where his father worked as a missionary. There was little hope of going on to high school because his family couldn’t afford the school fees.
In 1994, he started training as a “tokples preschool” teacher. This involved learning how to use local languages in preschool education. In 2003, he was called to Ukarumpa in the Eastern Highlands where he started a two year course called “Strengthening Tokples Education in PNG”, or STEP.
The STEP Course opened up new opportunities for Wionare Mitimu.
“In 2005, I started a literacy program in my Nankina language group. But I had to take the first step of creating awareness and when the people saw the benefits, they gave me a place to start.”
Some 5000 people speak Nankina. The language group blends into the Dumun and Teptep language groups.
That part of the Raikos district is one of the most difficult to get to because of its rugged terrain. Teachers and government officers from other provinces who are posted to work there, do not usually stay for a long time. The hardships eventually force them back to the comforts of town life.
The tokples preschools have become a local solution to ending a vicious cycle of the lack of education that exists in the area.
“In 2005, I trained 20 preschool teachers. Then in 2006, I trained another 20.”
It takes one year to train one batch. The training begins with and intensive two week session in the beginning of the year, followed by practical teaching. Then, there is another two week session at the end of the year. In total he had trained 67 teachers, including 27 from his own language group.
Within his language group, those 27 teachers each started 27 preschools.
But the work he started in 2005 was just the latest of his work over 25 years as a bible translator, language preschool teacher and trainer.
As a language preschool teacher, in the mid 1990’s, he was responsible for bridging an important education gap in a district that had a chronic shortage of teachers. That period was when the government introduced the elementary school system and the failed Outcome Based Education (OBE).
Schools in rural areas that were poorly resourced suffered the most. But Wionare Mitimu used methods taught to him by Bible translators to fill the education void.
“I didn’t teach in Tok Pisin because I found that Tok Pisin affected their learning when time came for the kids to transition to learning English.
“I taught them in their own language and then I did the ‘bridging’ process and sent them to grade three to learn English.”
After more than 20 years, the humble Bible translator is being rewarded by the success of his students.
“I have been told that some of my students are training to be pilots in the Philippines and Australia or where wherever it is they learn to fly planes. I know of one, at least. He’s from Teptep.
“One of my former students is a surgeon at the Goroka Hospital. Two girls are studying to be teachers at the University of Goroka. Another girl has graduated as a nurse. They are all my students. They come from my village.”
One of the things that astounds many people who come to learn about Wionare’s feats, is that none of the preschool teachers he trained get fortnightly salaries like their colleagues in government and church run schools.
“They don’t get paid money. The community gives them a house, makes their food gardens for them. The community supports them.
“Every six months, the people give them a small cash compensation they collect in a bilum. Then at the end of the year, we make a small kaikai and say ‘thank you’ to them.”