A hospital from a distant memory

Goroka holds so much childhood memories for me.

One particular place that means so much to me is the Goroka Base Hospital. This is where I got my first malaria treatment, broke my arm while playing in the hospital premises, watched television for the first time which was a video of a preacher named ‘Jimmy Swaggart’ and many other memories too. My mother worked as a nurse at this hospital so some days I would spend hours just wondering through the whole hospital and its surrounding areas while she worked there. It was a quaint little hospital serving the township population. The hospital was built in 1969.

This used to the central car park area of the hospital and the entrance to the hospital.
I remember walking up these cement pathway as a child from the ground floor to the hospital wings one level up.
The older parts of the hospital still maintain the same shape as I had last seen them.

Now I come back after all these years and the hospital buildings have changed in part but at the same time, much still remained the same as well. In the 1980s, Goroka town was the prettiest town in the Pacific and its hospital was, in my opinion, the best in the country. The hospital served much of its around 280,000 people back then in the 80’s but now maybe close to an estimated 600,000 population. Much of the brick walls and cement floor in the older parts of the building still remain but now there are many inclusions and the buildings have a modern touch to it. I’m really impressed with the new buildings. The former Minister of Health, in 2019, Mr. Elias Kavapore put the cost of new buildings at K200 million.

Some newer parts of the hospital looking from the carpark to the outpatient area.
The outpatient area is upstairs
One of the new wings of the hospital. It looks impressive!
The carpark area

I didn’t have the opportunity to go inside and see the inside of the new buildings but I know they would be awesome. As the former health minister said in 2019, “As the new diagnostic centre, Goroka has seven fully-equipped operating theatres that are at international standard and second to none in the country”!!

So yes, that’s just a little visit back down memory lane. See you all soon!

Need new glasses? A welcome sight in Goroka

Like many Papua New Guineans, I too, suffer from poor eyesight, in particular, short-sightedness (myopia). This means that when I see objects or people that are far away from me, they are blurry. My eyes cant make them out from a distance. To correct this, one can purchase glasses after doing proper eye tests with a qualified optometrist. The consultation will cost you but the expensive items are the glass frames and lens.

Over the years, I have spent quite a lot of money to purchase specific frames and lens for my glasses. Different vendors will have their own price and catalogue of glasses. Earlier this year I enquired at a private eye care company/optometrist operating in an urban area. In their stock, they begin all their frame prices at K650 while the lens may go up to K800 particularly for my lens strength. There are many organizations, some privately owned companies or cross country charity organisations or even church based NGOs that provide eye care across the country. Each has their own price depending on factors such as quality of frames, strength of lens, cost of doing business, number of people in need, estimation of affordability, whether optical care is part of rehabilitation or not, negative perceptions among different groups of people, etc. But all of them, from my experience, will provide an eye test and give information on the necessary glasses and lens to offer. Some eye tests are basic while others require much greater attention.

When visiting Goroka, the capital of Eastern Highlands Province, I came across the Callan Optical Service. Their office is right alongside the Highlands Highway opposite the airport.

The notice next to the entrance of the building showing the services provided and the types of work they carry out at the facility.

Their service and quality of care is top notch! As soon as I entered their small office space, Mr. Kotis Awaso, the refractionist and optical technician greeted me.

Kotis Awaso is ever ready to help me choose my frames
The frames are on display.

Since I knew my lens strength measurement, he invited me in to the area where the frames were on display. At the Callan Optical Service, both the frames and lens together cost K200. I spent the next ten minutes trying on the frames that I liked. Once I chose one, I paid for it and they started cutting the lens. Within 30 minutes I received my new pair of glasses! It was indeed a welcome sight in Goroka!

My completely new glasses with the tinted lens cut within 30 minutes.

While some might still say that K200 is still a lot of money to fork out for a pair of glasses, I would say otherwise. For the quality of frames and lenses, and the work required to cut the lens for the frames in 30 minutes, this is something you dont get often almost anywhere in this country. If I were to pay these elsewhere in places like Lae, Port Moresby or even places where I have gone to do studies such as Brisbane and Perth in Australia (yes I have done tests and got lens/frames in these two cities), this is the best cost effective option for me. Even in places like Australia, you would definitely need health insurance cover to pay for prescription glasses as it can be quite expensive.

If you are ever in Goroka and want to have your eyes checked/tested or look for new glasses, then visit the Callan Optical Service right in the heart of Goroka town, just along the Highlands Highway road.  

Visiting the idyllic University of Goroka

I first came to know of this place when I was introduced to it in the early 1980s. Back then it was known as the Goroka Teachers College and a certain Manusian from Bundrahei village, by the name of Francis Kari and his wife took me from my home in West Goroka to visit their family home at the college. He taught at the college which mainly concentrated on pre-service undergraduate diploma programs for secondary teachers, although it also trained teachers in Agriculture, Health, Secretarial Studies, and Technical Education.

Just after the entrance to the university, this is the first street.
Some classrooms.
The Postgraduate office on the left. Just look at those impressive pine trees!

Goroka Teachers, which began training teachers in 1961, has today become the premier teacher training institution in the country. Just after PNG’s independence in 1975, the college become part of the University of Papua New Guinea. However, in 1992, as a result of the National Education Reform and PNG’s Higher Education Plan, the UPNG Council decided to unify teacher education programs in Goroka. In 1995, the Goroka Campus of UPNG enrolled its first Bachelor of Education (BEd) intake. Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE), BEd Honours and Master of Education (MEd) degree students were admitted in subsequent years. The Government of Papua New Guinea declared the University of Goroka to be a fully-fledged University in 1997 by an Act of Parliament (UOG Act, 1997).

So today, since my first visit back in the 1980s, I decided to take a tour of the campus and see the physical space. While some of the infrastructure such as classrooms and teachers houses still maintained their shape, from my memory, many new additional buildings have added a touch of class to its physical setting. Coupled with Eastern Highlands’ cool temperate air and its location overlooking the township of Goroka, the university environment is idyllic. The lawns are freshly cut and green, the buildings free from graffiti and clean. I wished I had come to visit the university when it was full into its academic year. At this time, many students had not yet arrived as registration would begin the following week.

I’m standing in front of the Dr. Mark Solon auditorium
Overlooking the UOG campus eastwards towards Daulo Pass. Just look at how green the environment is!
I’m told this is the sewerage treatment plant for the university. This is impressive!
The university library
I’m standing in front of the doorway into the library
Classrooms, a hauswin and walkways
A bench at the edge of the look-out
People enjoying the look-out over Goroka town

While UOG has had its share of bad rap over the years for student boycotts and university management issues, for me, the student accommodation located in the heart of the University, outshines them all. It was still closed when I visited but surely this has to be the best student accommodation in all of PNG’s tertiary institutions. I have personally seen student accommodation in four PNG universities including Goroka in the past decade and I can truly say that the one at ‘kol peles’ Goroka is quite modern and impressive. Built at a cost of K108 million, the buildings tower over the university and I am told, has amazing views of Goroka. Together with a new library complex completed at a cost of K12 million, a new auditorium cost K8.5 million in 2002 and educational equipment bought for K11.5 million in 2005, UOG is building nicely.

Student accommodation from the outside
Student accommodation on the right, a street and then on the left is staff housing

If you ever choose to become a student at the University of Goroka, you will experience a rich environment in a unique part of PNG. I fell in love with Goroka a long time ago and I hope you can too. You can always visit the University website to know more about courses and how to enroll.


Amazing hot coffee at Yonki Dam

Usually when I travel on Public Motor Vehicles (PMVs) along the highways between provinces, I get to have drinks like kulau, soft drinks, water and even coffee at stops. For coffee, most often, it is served in a household ceramic cup and you drink from it. Once finished, the cup is returned to the owner before you leave and continue on your journey.

However, this time, as I travelled from Lae in Morobe Province to Goroka Eastern Highlands Province by PMV, I found an unexpected coffee encounter. We took off at around 5pm from Lae and by 7pm we were already past the Markham Valley and heading up the Kassam Pass – the gateway to the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea. We drove past the famous Yang Creek and once we reached Yonki Dam, we were knew we were already in Eastern Highlands Province territory as the air temperature began to drop. I had already began regretting my choice of wearing just a single shirt.

Yonki Dam, constructed in 1991, is located in the Arona Valley adjacent to the township of Yonki and generates around 18 megawatts of electricity to Morobe, Madang and Eastern Highlands provinces respectively. As the PMV zigzagged its way up the highway, we came to a stop just past the dam. It is a small roadside market with vendors selling items such as food, drinks, fruits, betelnuts, cigarettes, etc. Amongst all the usual items sold, I was pleasantly surprised to see a roadside vendor selling hot coffee in disposable paper cups with lids.

The smaller cups cost K2.00 while the larger ones cost K3.00

I paid K2.00 and the male vendor, who had a urn already filled with hot water, filled my cup, stirred the liquid and put the lid on . It wasn’t premium highlands coffee but the cheaper 3-in-1 ones that comes in sachets. It didn’t matter to me. The hot sweet coffee went easily down my throat and warmed by already cold hands.

I admire how Papua New Guineans like this vendor continue to hustle and bring innovation in his business providing convenience to travelling public on the highlands highway.
We stop on the roadside to get our stock of betelnuts, coffee and biscuits
So many Papua New Guineans travel on the highlands highway

It’s not something you see often on roadside markets along highways in PNG but I guess it’s all about stepping up and making the hustle cost effective and customer oriented. I never got to ask him about the cups as we only stopped for a few minutes before we took off again. I drank from a paper cup with a lid and as the bus took off, I held the cup and took sips from it until we reach Kainantu township.

If you ever travel along the highlands highway and stop at the Yonki Dam market, please purchase a K2.00 cup coffee and make the informal sector keep money in the pockets pf ordinary folks in Yonki!