M’buke village sets up an amazing community Wi-Fi and internet connectivity

Manus, being mostly a maritime province with its vast open seas, its unofficial 100,000 population scattered in small communities across its islands, coastlines and rugged hinterlands faces development challenges from a lack of reliable, affordable transportation, energy and communication infrastructure.  Communication solutions, let alone a robust and affordable internet-based system is still only a dream for many of the communities. Communication services in most parts of Manus is still provided by Digicel towers placed in some areas around the island province. But even still, many remote villages are not able to connect to the internet or have reliable phone services to communicate with the outside world.  

One such rural and remote village on the south coast of Manus Province has been out of phone network coverage for a long time. M’buke, pronounced as ‘Bu-ke’ with a silent ‘M’, are a group of islands who are a part of one of Manus’s major language groups – Titan language and are renown for building large outrigger canoes and are skillful sailors. With a relatively small population numbering close to 1,000, the people are outgoing, community oriented and practice communal decision making and have developed shared systems to tackle transport and energy challenges. However, the lack of reliable and affordable communication services has been an on ongoing challenge for a long time.  

The lovely M’buke island. Pic by Peter Popu Molean
The M’buke community.

Peter Popu Molean, an architect by profession and project manager by qualification and training, is a M’buke local who has invested more than a decade into investigating and support the delivery of development projects and innovative solutions for his island home. A robust and affordable communication has always been on the list of priorities. In 2020, his hunt for an affordable internet solution landed him at Kacific Broadband Satellite Ltd, a relatively new entrant into Papua New Guinea (operating mostly in south east Asia and the south western Pacific) committed to providing universal, fast, high-quality broadband access at an affordable cost using robust technologies and an agile business model. Immediately recognizing the capabilities of the solution on offer by Kacific, he developed and submitted a proposal with the blessing of the traditional leadership of M’buke, the Ward development community and the Board of management of the M’buke Primary School and the M’buke Community for a Satellite broadband Internet Kit under Kacific’ s Community Wifi Program. M’buke’s application was one the first to be approved. Under the conditions for this program, the Satellite kit would be heavily discounted and linked up with Kinect, a Port Moresby Based Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Kacific authorized dealer and installer. The recipient community takes up costs for equipment freight and logistics as well as installation service fees. The Community would also need to procure and install a solar power kit capable for running the system.

In early 2021, Molean proposed the project to 12 young likeminded M’buke Islanders based in Port Moresby together hatched a plan to pull this project off starting with a personal cash commitment to raise the cost component and take charge of ensuring the Project got delivered.   Armed with a simple but effective project delivery strategy, the team was able to garner the support from various individuals and groups from other centers around the country, in Lorengau and especially on the island who chipped in cash and kind. These included Air Niugini, NCD Governor Hon. Powes Parkop, Sherpard Guest House, Bismarck Fuel, Kinect and the M’buke Islands People’s Association (MIPA). For example, Air Niugini’s Commercial team, made it possible to uplift all the equipment from Port Moresby to Manus free of excess charges, provided heavily discounted tickets for the technical team to travel not only once but twice to M’buke Island from Port Moresby to inspect, install and commission the Satellite Broadband Internet and Wifi System.

The team departs Port Moresby to Manus. From left to right is Anton Poliap, Milton Kisapai, Peter Popu Molean, Alex Roalokona and Joshua Salawia

Last week, months of planning and execution, many acts of goodwill, generous hearts and contributions, all the hard work paid off when M’buke Island was connected to the world wide web via high speed broad band internet service.

The Kinect team starts working as soon as they arrive on the island in the evening. Pictured here is Joshua Salawia, Alex Roalokona and local islander Pomulut Popau.
The Kinect technician Alex Roalokona calibrates the dish to the satellite the following day
The wireless technology mounted on the rooftop to transmit the wireless signal to the community

The team leader Mr. Peter Popu Molean said in practical terms, the pace of socio-economic development has been hindered for so many years with very poor unreliable service from existing service providers.  M’buke is a 3-hour or K500 boat trip to Lorengau town to make that vital phone call or send a critical email or access online services. A contributing factor to the high cost of service delivery is the lack of access to a robust system that can support dissemination of data and information in a timely and accurate manner.

In the mid-term, he said: “The Internet Service will boost teaching and learning capacities, at the elementary and primary school levels, where programs are already being set in place to maximize the benefits of resources and capabilities availed via the internet

“The future of the M’buke people as society is and will always be best guaranteed with a well-educated population. Enabling access to education resources online at the basic community level is a natural step in building community resilience by enabling our people to develop home grown solutions to meet ever shifting development challenges,” he added. 

Peter Popu Molean explains to the M’buke primary school students and teachers about the role of the Wi-Fi program and how it will benefit the school
Anton Poliap points out the role of students having aspirations and dreams to be better versions of themselves and how the community Wifi program can help them learn well
We pose with the M’buke Primary School students after the awareness session.

He pointed out: “We will launch the Internet and telecommunications service on 16th September to coincide with our local independence celebrations. The installation and commissioning of the Internet Service on the island is not end of the Project, rather it is only the beginning. As with change and development progress, there will be negative aspects that will be need attention and mitigation strategies put in place and with power vested with the appropriate stakeholders. However, on the overall, positive benefits should outweigh the negatives.”

There are already plans underway by the MIPA to conduct more community consultations and training to members of the community on basic internet use on smart phones, online safety and online literacy. The MIPA executives are already planning a rapid evaluation in December on the island to assess the impact and outcome of the telecommunication service.

The team leaves M’buke village back to Lorengau

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DHL office in Manus

DHL, an international express mail, courier service and package delivery service that is known the world over, has an office in Lorengau.

DHL was by co-founded by three people, Larry Lee Hillblom, Adrian Dalsey and Robert Lynn in 1969 in the USA. The first letter of their surname of each person formed the company name – DHL. Since then, the company has grown to reach 220 countries and territories around the world.

Their office in Lorengau is located at Ward 1, just adjacent to the famous ‘raun wara’. If you take the bus from Lorengau market, you pay K1 for the ride and the bus crew will let you off at ‘Raun wara’. You leave the main road and walk down to the beach. As you approach a refueling station close to the beach, you look inside the area and you will see the famous yellow and red signage of DHL.

At the time I visited the office, packages from 1kg to 5kg would cost K71.60 for domestic courier (this might have changed since then) and packages 5kg and up to 300kg would be calculated on height, weight and the distance the package would travel for.

Its a great service provided here in Manus so if you want to send or receive packages in a safe and timely manner, then DHL is the way to go.

Lopoki Inc. goes to remarkable Papitalai Secondary to give back to Grade 12s

In 1997, I was selected with 12 other students from the then ECOM High School to come do our grade 11 at Papitalai Secondary School. With the rest of the other students from Papitalai High School itself, Manus High School, the then Bundrahei High School and the then Manus School of the Air (SOTA), we all formed two classes of Papitalai Secondary’s pioneer class.

Walking towards the classrooms and the audiovisual rooms.

In grade 10, I put my first choice on the School Leaver Form to go to Lae Technical College to do a Technical Certificate in Butchery. However, after completing grade 10 at ECOM High, I soon found out that my dream of becoming a butcher would not emerge. I would be continuing on to Papitalai as the plans by higher powers in the Provincial Government system had put in place a secondary school, the first in Manus.

The school clinic on the right and the school dining hall on the left
Standing at the main administration area looking back towards the classrooms and the science lab on the left.
Some of the classrooms for students

During the mid 1990s, Papitalai High School was the school to be in. Established and managed by Catholic Church and its affiliated groups, it was immaculately managed and its annual ‘Fete’ was the talk of the province. Its buildings were well kept and the students well disciplined. In 1997, the high school level changed to the secondary level which meant the school would now accept grade 11 and 12s. This is where my story at Papitalai began. 

Our first teachers were brilliant and hardworking. They brought to light the wonders of science, mathematics, history, geography and the lot. Sr. Catherine, Mrs. Pondikou, Mr. Turuhe, Mr. Chapok, Mr. Kumba, Ms. Loman are the few that come to mind. They were professional in attire, in demeanor and in timeliness. Papitalai Secondary chose well in recruiting these outstanding individuals to be our first teachers.

In two years, I learnt about the Papitalai School way of life. Cutting firewood at fuel pump and walking all the way back to drop it at the school mess was the first lesson on hard work. Cutting grass at the coconut plantation each morning for work parade before breakfast was another. Digging out coconut trunks for punishment was another. Some students were really good fisherman and hunters so they had fish or cuscus respectively, each weekend. For social activities, we had the annual school sports, the almighty cross country marathon, the once in a while school dance which lasted only one hour; the catholic feast days and the famous school fete. It was a well rounded education esteemed in the Catholic philosophy and ethos.

So coming back after all these years was exciting. To come back and see the place that housed me, fed me, nurtured me and gave me a foundation for life was heartwarming. I had decided to come back to talk about Divine Word University courses and entry requirements to the Grade 12 students. The session was to help the students think about DWU as an option if they wanted to continue their education at the tertiary level. Mr. Pius Londron, the Deputy Principal Academic, arranged for the trip to be possible since I live in the village and have to travel to Lorengau then to Papitalai which is in the Los Negros area of Manus.

The hardworking Mr. Pius Londron is the Deputy Principal Academic. He made my trip trip possible to reach Papitalai to talk to the students.
Papitalai Secondary continues to grow under the great leadership of the Principal, Ms. Agatha Poek.

I talked to two groups of students in the Audiovisual room. I talked about some facts about DWU and then focused on the courses at the four faculties of DWU – Faculty of Business & informatics, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Faculty of Education and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. The students asked questions about courses, entry requirements, subject combinations and courses at the four campuses of DWU.

The grade 12 students moving into the Audiovisual room before the commencement of the session
One group of Grade 12 student listening as I explain some information about DWU courses.
The next group of students just before I start with the presentation.

All in all, I really enjoyed talking to the students. It is a small way I can give back to the school in the best way I know how. I am living in the village now so I believe going to give the talk is time well spent. It is also my hope that at least the talk provides a spark to these young people who might, not only eventually go to DWU, but more importantly, know that life doesn’t end when you don’t get an offer after grade 12. After grade 12, the choice to fight on and become successful in life must always be the dream. I gave them the example of myself where I did not get any offers after grade 12 at Papitalai and had to go back and stay in the village. I lived in the village for a year and then through the grace of God, I started my education again, found work and some 20 years later was here again to tell them to ‘never give up’. Life did really come full circle!