People with disabilities succeed at the University of Goroka

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  • Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2007 21:34:43 -0400

The National, Papua New Guinea
Sunday, October 21, 2007

People with disabilities succeed at the University of Goroka 


Universities should be should be open to everyone with academic ability, 
irrespective of age, sex, socio-economic background or any other factor. This 
is certainly the view held by teachers at the University of Goroka.(UOG) One 
way the University is putting this into practice is by creating a more 
welcoming environment for people with disabilities. In this article, we will 
discuss the experiences of two disabled students and a disabled teacher at the 

Martin Kawage is the only blind person at present attending a university in 
Papua New Guinea. 
Born in Simbu, he lost his sight as a result of a childhood accident. He then 
studied at Mt Sion Centre for the Disabled, Faniufa primary school, and Goroka 
Grammar School, before being accepted by the University of Goroka to study for 
a Diploma in Special Education. 
Martin, accompanied by his assistant Dominic Umba, attends the same classes as 
the other students. He participates fully in class activities. When the teacher 
asks a question, his hand shoots up, and the other students nod in agreement as 
he answers the question thoughtfully. While other students are busy taking 
notes, Martin is recording the lecture on a handheld tape-recorder. When he has 
to write an essay, he uses his laptop computer. The computer has a special 
programme installed in it which allows him to listen to what he has written. 
Test papers are brailled out for him by the Braille Production Unit at Mount 
Sion Centre for the Disabled. 
Braille is the reading and writing system for blind people. It consists of a 
series of raised dots on a piece of paper. The dots represent various groups of 
letters. Blind people run their fingers along these raised dots and convert the 
dots to words.
Martin is grateful for all the support he has received. For instance, Bob 
Howarth, former managing director of the Post Courier, covers the costs of his 
studies, and The Royal Society for the Blind in South Australia has given him a 
talking watch. But the university is also grateful to Martin. One of his tutors 
noted, 'I've learned such a lot about teaching blind people since I've had 
Martin in my class.' And one of his classmates observed, 'I used to think 
disabled people were different. I now realize they're just the same as you and 
Another person with disabilities is Francis Kompaon, a first year Humanities 
student. He comes from East New Britain where he studied at St Mary's Catholic 
High School, one of the top sporting schools in the country. Although he was 
born with one arm, this never stopped him doing what he wanted to do - whether 
it was climbing coconut trees or playing touch rugby with his friends! 
Francis is one of the top ten athletes in his class in the world. His fastest 
time for the 100 metres is 11.38 seconds. For the 200 metres it is 23.22 
seconds. He has been selected to represent Papua New Guinea at the 
Para-Olympics in Bejing, where he hopes to win a gold medal. In order to 
achieve this, he follows a demanding training regime. This involves getting up 
at crack of dawn to run round the track at the National Sports Institute and 
then training for a further two hours in the afternoon. At the moment he is 
focusing on building up his 'speed endurance' - the ability to accelerate past 
competitors in the closing stages of a race. 
Francis enjoys studying in the Highlands, although he misses 'the fresh sea 
from the sea, pulled out from the sea to the pot.' He strongly believes that 
disabled people can achieve anything: 'Ol i ken mekim ol yet.' 
Joel Silas is a Mathematics tutor at the University of Goroka. In high school, 
he achieved a Distinction in the Australian Mathematics Competition and full 
marks in his Grade 10 Mathematics examination, putting him among the top half 
dozen students in the country. He has a Bachelors degree from the University of 
Papua New Guinea and hopes to study for a Masters degree in Australia or New 
Zealand. He also happens to have a hearing difficulty. 
Seeing him teach, you realise that Mathematics comes to him as naturally as 
breathing. He effortlessly covers the whiteboard with signs and symbols while 
his students observe and take notes. When he finishes, he asks them if they 
have any questions. When they speak, Joel is able to understand what they are 
saying because he wears a high powered hearing aid and is a skilful lip reader. 
Joel then clearly explains the mathematics concepts that are causing them 
difficulty, expertly using the whiteboard to demonstrate what he means. 
Despite these successes, the University of Goroka is not complacent. We know we 
could be doing more. Over the next few years, we will be providing better 
support for people with disabilities at the university. 
We also want to increase the enrolment of these people, particularly women with 
But, in the words of Chairman Mao, 'Even the longest journey starts with the 
first step.' The University of Goroka has taken the first step and is steadily 
advancing towards its goal of becoming an institution that is open to 

*Guy Le Fanu and James Aiwa are lecturers in Special and Inclusive Education at 
the University of Goroka. Guy Le Fanu is employed by CBM, an NGO which works 
with people with disabilities throughout the world.
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