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Saturday, December 6, 2014


     I (Matt) had a very interesting experience this week.  For the last 14 weeks of the building project we have had 3 students from a local vocational training school working with us for the practical portion of their course. I was a little concerned at first because this was the first time I have participated in this sort of program and I was not sure what their competency level would be. They were definitely green when we got them, but I was the same way when we started doing construction and you have to start somewhere. They all worked very hard and were open to learning new things. In the end it was a joy to have them, to train them, and watch them grow. They were an asset to the team and the project and I would be happy to have another set of students.
     But that was not the end of the story. The students and their teachers invited us (my foreman and me) to come to their graduation ceremony. As an expat and a representative of the largest mission organization in the country this is not terribly out of the ordinary. It is generally pretty hard for students to find places to do their practical training, and it is a requirement for graduation, so they wanted to express their gratitude to us and foster the relationship between the school and our mission.
     I have been to quite of few of these type of celebrations before, in other parts of the country, so I thought I was prepared. They are generally pretty long and it seems like everyone and their brother gets up and talks. But they are usually pretty fun.
     We arrived and were greeted by the construction teachers. They brought us into a waiting room with some of the VIPs (2 local members of parliament, the provincial inspector for vocational training, and several other government officials). At this point I still had not grasped the fact that I was one of the VIPs. They served us light refreshments (coffee and buttered bread) and then we were taken out. Some of the girls in the hospitality program were dressed in tradition clothes and lead the procession in. We walked through a line of men dressed in local traditional clothes playing a welcome song. In the past I was seated on the front row in these sorts of affairs but this time we were taken to our seats on the stage! As we climbed the steps there were another set of hospitality students putting leas on our neck (pictured above on the left). I sat down just behind the podium and realized that this was a little more than I was used to.
     The program began and they recognized all the VIPs ( I was one). I thought "oh that was nice." I settled in to watch the program. Speeches were made and money was promised by the members to support the school. They then began to recognize the outstanding students in each section. I was asked to come up and hand the gifts to the students in the plumbing and carpentry students. The program kept going and then it happened. I was just sitting there minding my own business and I heard my name!!!They just called me up to the podium to speak!!!!! I got up not quite knowing what to say but luckily I am rarely at a loss for words. I spoke for a few minutes about what great students we had and how proud the teachers should be of them and the training they had received and sat down. A few more speeches were given and it was time for the students to receive their certificates. They began to hand out certificates and called up various people to hand them to the students. One of the interesting things at this point was some of the students and their families were giving bilums, hand woven bags, to some of their teachers to say thank you. I was again called up to hand out the carpentry and plumbing certificates. When my 3 students came up they each gave me a bilum. I was overwhelmed by this act. When someone gives a bilum in this sort of situation they put it around your neck and you have to leave it there. So here is what I looked like after the ceremony was over :-)
After the ceremony was over we had a small meal and they gave me a tour of the carpentry workshop. There were only 3 power tools in the shop for all of the students. I am always impressed with how much Papua New Guineans can do with limited resources. What an amazing day. Papua New Guinea is truly "the land of the unexpected".