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Oil Search Foundation Chairman Peter Botten reads to children at the Habare Literacy Library in Tari-Pori district, Hela province.

"When schools all over Hela closed after the earthquake, our school remained open. When there was tribal fighting here and all the schools in Tari closed, our school did not close down. We have kept going. We kept going because of help from you all."
- Peter Botten Oil Search Foundation Chairman

This is how a parent of a student enrolled at the Habare Literacy Library in Tari described why the school of early childhood learning continued to operate even after the earthquake forced the building that housed the library off its foundations.

While schools in Tari remained closed for last year, the Habare Literacy Library reopened in June. The headmaster allocated an undamaged classroom for the library because the community wanted their children to continue classes despite the disaster.

On February 28, in front of happy students, smiling parents, and a proud delegation led by Oil Search Ltd Managing Director Peter Botten, the Habare Literacy Library opened its doors at the old classroom.

Built with funding from the Oil Search Foundation (OSF), the early childhood education program provides an innovative learning environment for 100 children aged 4 to 6 years – and provides them with the foundation for lifelong success.

Students enrolled in the childhood literacy program by the PNG NGO, Buk bilong Pikinini (BbP) use the library to study phonics, for speaking and listening exercises, pre-reading and pre-writing; the four building blocks that must be in place for a child to begin a lifetime of literacy.

Mr Botten, who is also OSF Chairman, spoke to students about the importance of early learning. “Who wants to be Managing Director of Oil Search?” Mr Botten asked. “Who wants to be head of the Hela Provincial Health Authority? Who wants to be the next Prime Minister of PNG?”

“This library gives you an opportunity in life to reach your farthest dream. The library gives you an opportunity to read and write, to get an education and to get a good job.”
- Peter Botten OSF Chairman

And it seems that the children enrolled in the programme are already are well on their way.

“When they came to us, they did not know English,” Susan Minai, the head librarian said. “But after three weeks, they can follow our instructions in English. They can say the words we teach them. It is amazing to watch.” Ms Minai and a few helpers have kept the literacy program going while the library was undergoing repairs.

Mr Botten thanked teachers like Ms Minai and emphasised how important they are. “A library is not just a room full of books. It needs trained staff to help children reach their education goals.”

He also thanked the local Seventh Day Adventist Church for providing the teachers and students with classrooms and Buk bilong Pikinini for their strong partnership to provide training, mentoring and the curriculum. The support of parents and local community members was acknowledged, along with the important role by the Provincial Department of Education.

“We have enjoyed a very productive relationship with education officials,” said Mr Botten who is also chair of the Hela Provincial Health Authority. “This is the way we work, in partnership with organisations to deliver the services people need. And we can’t do it without the community, that has provided labour and support to open this wonderful library.”

One of OSF’s next tasks will be to help build a new library in Fugwa, located in the Koroba-Kopiago district of Hela. This will be done with funding from the Australian government, the local Member, Hon Petrus Thomas and with support from the Wesley church and the provincial education office. A new library funded by OSF will also be open later this year in Kikori, Gulf Province.