For Benson Saulo, reading great books as a child inspired a lifelong love of learning. He hopes to give the same chance to children in New Ireland province PNG through his organisation, Mind Garden Projects, which provides much-needed education resources to schools in the region.

Photo: Benson Saulo

I am certain that everyone has a favourite book that they read in their childhood, and that the title alone brings back memories of the adventures found in its pages. My favourite book was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis. This story of children discovering another world through an old wardrobe, finding courage, loyalty and faith to overcome an evil that has gripped the land in endless winters, is a story that sparked my imagination. I would play for hours with a sword made out of a small tree branch with electrical tape for the hilt, cutting down invisible foes like the High King of Narnia, Peter the Magnificent.

My fiancé Kate had similar experiences growing up, surrounded by novels. The difference being the novels (and they were novels unlike my books) were crime thrillers like Silence of the Lambs and countless John Grisham titles. Her love of these novels, the plot twists and the characters that filled their pages is what influenced her to become a Doctorate of Clinical and Forensic Psychology.

Our childhoods were made so much richer by the adventures that took place in the pages of our books, not once did we ever conceive of a reality without our fictional journeys.

In 2014, Kate and I returned to my Grandmothers’ land at Lafu Village, on the west coast of New Ireland. During this time, Kate went through custom to be brought into the Mungatirian clan. This was really special for our whole family, and it strengthened our commitments to my extended family.

We were fortunate to spend time with students at Ussil Primary School who were participating in a holiday program. I delivered a small address to the students, praising them for their commitment to their education, and expressing the importance of an education that can create opportunities for them. Following the formalities, the student activities began. When I think of holiday programs, they involve painting, playing sports and doing science experiments that involve exploring the playground, but instead these 25 students were stapling photocopied books in preparation for the up-coming semester.

The Headmaster explained that school resources were so expensive that they could only purchase very limited supplies and they had to make them stretch as far as possible. He took us to the school library, a small blue shed. The door swung open revealing dozens of shelves, and absent from them were the books that every child needs to learn, grow and explore, like Kate and I had the opportunity to do when we were young.

The Headmaster said that this library has been mostly empty since 1996 when the building was first built, he continued to explain that the students’ numeracy and literacy test scores were suffering dramatically as they don’t have access to reading materials.

Benson Saulo with people from his Father’s community in New Ireland (Photo supplied: Benson Saulo).

One week later, Kate and I were skimming across the open ocean in an outboard motor 12 seater boat on our way to New Hanover, West Lavongai. Following this 6 hour boat ride, was another 2 hour dingy ride up a narrow freshwater river, followed by a 50 minute hike through shin deep mud, river crossings and tiny villages to finally reach Neikonomon, the village of my Grandfather.

The local community primary school had been closed for three years until recently when a new Head Teacher arrived. He was excited, his two teachers were excited and their 40 students were all excited but they had no teaching resources to begin semester.

Kate and I spent time reflecting on our recent experiences, and made the decision that we wanted to support the schools to deliver a quality education to their students.

In October 2014, Kate and I co-founded Mind Garden Projects, which exists to source and develop educational resources to support literacy skills in primary and elementary schools across New Ireland Province. In April 2015, we sent our first shipment of resources to support Ussil Primary School and Neikonomon Community School. This shipment included teacher and student resources and equipment, and classroom resources. Additionally, we received over 350 donated books to fill the Ussil Primary School library for the first time in nearly two decades.

In 2014/15, Mind Garden Resources will impact 240+ students, 12+ teachers and 4+ schools.

We have recently engaged the PNG Provincial Department of Education, to discuss the opportunity to be the main provider of school resources for elementary schools in New Ireland. This would enable us to provide cheaper and better quality school resources than what is currently available to schools across the Province.

Our hope is that every young child will have the opportunity to find an adventure in their learning, and that it will inspire them to lead of life of exploration.

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