What do MAF Pilots Do? MAF in Papua New Guinea
Story by Ryan Cole. Photos Richie Axon
Sometimes I have been asked the question, “What does a MAF pilot do?”
The answer is different for each country where MAF operates, and from one day to the next.
In Papua New Guinea (PNG), we do many things; on any one day I could be a mailman, an ambulance driver, a hearse driver, a taxi, a delivery man, and many other things, including being a school bus driver!
Around the start of the year, one of our main jobs is getting students and teachers back to school. The school term in PNG starts at the beginning of February, so for the first weeks of each year we are busy flying as many students and teachers as we can possibly squeeze into our schedule. Because there are so few high schools in PNG, many of them are boarding schools. We fly around and collect the students from all the smaller villages and take them to the larger villages where the high schools are located, like Telefomin or Tekin. Since there are no roads in this part of the country, and it takes days or weeks to walk between villages, most of the students will not see their families until the end of the school year, at the start of December.
But they know that a good education is a key part of improving the quality of life for them and their families, so they are willing to make that huge sacrifice.
Usually around October, on a set date, the students are taking their final exams supplied by the Government. For the schools in the larger towns and cities, this is not a problem, but for the few remote villages that are fortunate to have small schools, they must wait until the exams can be flown in by MAF.
Last year, I had the privilege of delivering exams to multiple villages in October, one was Tekin, a village about 30 miles east of Telefomin. At Tekin there is a well-known high school that was started by a Missionary Teacher, Glenda Giles, who works there but is training local teachers to take over from her.
Her students were extremely glad that the exams arrived! In PNG there are only enough high school places for about 50% of the primary school students, so to be able to go to high school and take the exams is a privilege particularly for students in the remote areas. Another village I delivered exams to was Gubil, about 15 miles north of Telefomin. They only have a primary school but the students were so excited to get their exams that a dozen of them started celebrating by dancing in circles around the aeroplane!
One of the final villages that I delivered exams to was Fiyak, about 30 miles north of our home base. The students in Fiyak were not able to take exams in 2017 because they did not have a school, it did not exist. So you can imagine the excitement and celebration when I brought the exams for them! This generation of young people now have a way to better themselves and advance their education which was simply not available to their parents.
At that school 17 students were taking exams in 2018, many from the villages within walking distance of Fiyak. When I unloaded the box of exams from the aeroplane one of the village leaders asked me to stand about 10 meters in front of the aeroplane while a group of people performed a traditional dance, called a sing-sing, wearing simple costumes of shells, flowers and birds feathers.
This sing-sing group came out from the village and started to dance in circles around us while three village elders took the box of exams. They shook my hand and told me of their joy and happiness, and how much of a blessing it is to have their children receive an education and take these exams. I was extremely humbled at being able to perform this simple service of delivering school exams and seeing how dramatically it is impacting their small village.
I confess that I didn’t see my own school exams as that much of a blessing, they were always more of a necessary annoyance. But to see it through the eyes of these villagers in the remote parts of PNG, I thank God for the blessing of my education and the opportunities it has opened up. I hope that all students in the developed world recognise the blessing and privilege that their education is. I hope that you will share this story with a student you know so that they will see their education and their school exams in that light and that they will praise God for their many, many blessings! MAF is the only option for access to education beyond grade 7 for most of the bush people in PNG. The support we receive from you, whether that be financial, practical, and/or prayer, allows us to continue to help people through flights like these.