Today was a day of highs and lows. We started the day in the village with the sight of the tank stand nearly complete, with just a few welds left to do. Ronald, as per usual, worked like crazy all day to make sure it was finished in a timely manner and the result was beautiful. As he worked, some of the villagers made their way around the structure painting all of the completed welds to help prevent corrosion in the future and Ronald’s assistant, Samuel, quietly and efficiently followed behind Ronald grinding everything down.
While the last of the welds were in progress, our engineers worked to gather all of the materials we would need handy once the tank stand was pulled upright. Nita and Neil put on a mini seminar to demonstrate to some of the men who have been helping us throughout the construction phase how the rebar would be placed and secured in the footings of the tank stand and what the purpose was of each piece and the overall design. It was nice to be able to have the time and enough of the guys who weren’t already busy to actually slow down enough to prep a bit for the next step and actually explain the reason behind and purpose of what we were about to do.
Jane and Crystal work with our volunteer translators to add Tok Pisin phrases to the banner for the school.
Meanwhile, Crystal and Jane prepared for the afternoon’s school visit with the help of the same village translators who had assisted in completing the surveys over the weekend (David and Filamon), as well as our drivers for the day, Robert and Reuben. We brought with us from Austin a beautiful banner which was generously donated by Larry Perez Signs in Round Rock and made from an image we’d found from a water education program online. The image depicts different clean water sources and water uses and the idea is to match each one with a list of those sources on uses on one side of the image. The idea is to teach about safe water practices and the importance of water for daily life. Since the image was in English, we wanted to be sure that we provided the text in Tok Pisin, as well. The guys worked together to talk out each phrase to make sure we had the closest translation. David then wrote them out for Jane on a piece of paper, so that she wouldn’t make any spelling mistakes on the actual poster, then she wrote out each Pisin phrase underneath the English.
After an early lunch (or “brunch,” an American tradition we had taught Gonny the afternoon before), we hit a bit of a snafu on our way to depart for the school. We had originally hoped that our group could split up just for an hour or so, leaving two of our engineers behind to monitor the rest of the work on the tank stand. Since splitting up is a security no-no, even within Maniang, and since Ronald et al. would need to stop for lunch eventually, anyway, we decided to all head to the school together in the end.
Some of our team standing with Joyce, the school’s Head Girl, and the donated banner in front of the rest of the schoolchildren.
We had not been able to get very much information about the school in advance, so we were unfortunately unable to prepare more than the donation of the poster before our arrival. What we did know was that the school had approximately 350 students between grades 3 and 8. We also were not able to spend as much time there as we had originally hoped, but we were glad at least to have seen the place, met the teachers, and been able to present to the kids. After introductions and an explanation of the poster (we were told that the children all understood English), we asked if the children had any questions or requests of us. The teacher, Gabby, told us that some of the children had requested that we sing our national anthem . . . . You got it! We apologized in advance for our poor singing skills and secured an exchange of the kids singing the PNG national anthem before we began. Then we picked a key and the five of us gave our best shot at the extremely difficult song. (USA! USA!) It went well, though we certainly won’t be up for any Grammies. Regardless, the kids seemed to enjoy it. Then, it was their turn. Gabby instructed the children to rise, then 350 voices rang out with the Papua New Guinea national anthem. Although we couldn’t tell you any of the words off the top of our heads other than “Papuaaaaa New Guineaaaaa,” it was a lovely tribute and a beautiful song.
After the school, we headed back toward the project site, stopping briefly in a wide open field where Gonny introduced us to Lawrence, the District President (a position that Gonny had held before Lawrence), who was busy setting up for a conference that will take place in September, bringing 150,000 Papua New Guineans to Maniang. We also stopped there so that Gonny could show us a Tuffa tank and temporary stand that he had built in preparation for the conference.
Eventually, we made it back to the village center and soon it was the moment of truth: it was finally time to hoist the 1500 pound tank stand upright and set it in place. Up to this point and throughout construction it had been alternately on one side or upended and resting on the top. The villagers had some straps we had provided, some ropes and straps of their own making, long sticks, a couple barrels, and about 50 men either directing the others or actually with their hands on the stand, ready to pull it up. I think all of us on our team were holding their breath as it came up, but once the villagers had a plan, it went very smoothly. They worked in teams, got the heavy top of the stand off of the ground, then managed to set it down gently on the four footings in the holes that they’d dug for them on day two. It was extremely satisfying to see the stand finally towering above us, just waiting for concrete footings and a tank on top!
The villagers adjust the newly upright tank stand, making sure it ends up level.
The rest of the afternoon was spent getting the rebar into place and beginning to mix and pour the concrete. As with every previous step in the process, the villagers wasted no time jumping in and making themselves useful. We had to undo and redo the rebar a couple times as we went, but we finally found a procedure that worked and got it done. After seeing the villagers with the concrete last time, we weren’t worried at all about how that would go, but just made sure that we had enough bags of concrete to finish the job. We worked right up until 4:30, when it was time to go.
Unfortunately, an otherwise productive and heartening day ended with the biggest disappointment of the trip. We learned that what we had been told yesterday about our solar panel and water pump being in Port Moresby was, in fact, incorrect and that the materials had not yet even left Australia. We were crushed. Ultimately, it turns out that they were put on a ship in Brisbane and are expected to arrive in Lae no earlier than the 30th. Since it’s already been loaded on the ship, we have no way to expedite it to Lae in order to get it to the village before we have to leave to head back home. We are still hoping for a miracle and we will be back in touch with the company in Australia tomorrow to make sure we’ve done everything we can to help smooth out this incredibly disappointing bump in the road. Thankfully, our in-country support has continued to amaze us with their generosity and willingness to help us, even after we’re gone. We will be discussing the details tomorrow with the folks at ATCDI to determine how they will carry on and complete the project if it must be done after our departure (and we have complete faith in them to get the job done). Matt Smith here at Esso Highlands has also offered his help for making sure the package gets through customs and possibly even with delivery of the materials, if necessary. Although we are all devastated by the thought that we may not be able to see this through to the end, we are deeply grateful to those who have been so helpful to our team throughout our time here in PNG.
Tomorrow will be a day of errands and meetings in Lae, then an afternoon back in the village to discuss with the village leaders and the Water Committee the events of today and the best course of action for the team’s last day in-country. We hate to have to deliver bad news, but we hope that our commitment and sincerity will be as obvious tomorrow as it was on day one. Tomorrow will also be Jane’s last day in PNG, with an early flight on Saturday morning, then the rest of the team will follow on Sunday. We’ll keep you up to date on how things go tomorrow and how we can wrap up our time here as neatly and positively as possible.