On 2 May, the General Manager of MAMA, Paul Singer, spoke with Geraldine Coutts on ABC Radio Australia’s program, Pacific Beat.
Speaking to an audience that extended across the Pacific, Paul explained where MAMA originated, and importantly for this audience, gave an update on our next project – the opening of the MAMA Resource Centre in Kiribati next week.
The audio of the interview can be accessed at ABC Radio Australia and a transcript of the interview is below.
COUTTS: Kiribati is set to gain a new education centre, and joining me now from Canberra is the General Manager of Make A Mark Australia, Paul Singer. Good morning Paul.
SINGER: Good morning Geraldine and a warm welcome to your listeners in Kiribati through 90FM.
COUTTS: Paul, could you explain how Make A Mark came about?
SINGER: Make a Mark Australia originated in 2009 when a colleague named Mark Fraser, who is CEO of Make a Mark Australia (or MAMA), and I travelled through Africa and visited a small school called Sishemo Education Trust in Lusaka, Zambia. We were powerfully moved by what we saw. We saw tremendous adversity and great challenges but against that we also witnessed great courage and optimism. After that visit we were incredibly confronted by what we had seen and we had great difficulty in reconciling the emotions of those children, the great hope of those children and yet the incredible situation they were going through with lack of resources and so forth. We felt compelled to do something, so we pooled our resources, we engaged our network of friends, families and colleagues and we’ve come up with Make A Mark Australia to help empower children in need through improved education.
COUTTS: We’ll go to Kiribati, what’s the education resource centre there and what is your contribution to it?
SINGER: This originated from an approach from the Vice President of Kiribati, Vice President Onorio, and our High Commissioner in Tarawa, who had been aware of some of the programs that Make A Mark Australia had been conducting around the world. In fact, this is the seventh project that Make a Mark Australia has undertaken. The project is really targeted at providing pre-primary and primary age children access to a very safe, positive and nurturing environment to have improved access to educational resources in what is essentially an under-developed community.
COUTTS: Well what does the educational resource centre comprise?
SINGER: The centre’s going to be located at the National Women’s Federation where it’s intended that the mothers at the local village will be able to take their children to this very safe location and have access to books within the library, which will have close to four-thousand different books, a number of art supplies and sporting equipment, and provide children a wonderful introduction to the import of literacy and numeracy in what will be a safe, positive and fun environment.
COUTTS: I wonder just how much research and background you’ve done because there’s evidence now or research coming out to suggest that if children have a good pre-school education or access to education that they’re likely to go much further in school in later years?
SINGER: That’s right and in fact some of your listeners may have heard the recent report that came out from Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child and Health. It said that reading from birth to primary school is absolutely key in developing children’s ability to read and write. And this is where MAMA targets the pre-primary and primary aged children to really empower these children to make positive choices and have better access to education in the future.
COUTTS: How many children in this age group now in Kiribati, because I’m thinking that because with the young population and child-rearing age there would be quite a few?
SINGER: Well that’s right, this is an incredibly important issue for Kiribati, a population of close to 100-thousand people of which almost 50 per cent of them are under the age of 18. This particular centre will be targeting the local three pre-schools and primary schools and all up it’s a catchment area of about 18-hundred students.
COUTTS: Well you’ve got the resource centre, the building, now you’ve got to fill it with all these books and goodies for the children, will that be provided by whom and in an ongoing basis?
SINGER: Well that’s been partly provided through Make a Mark Australia and the Australian High Commission in partnership. The Australian High Commission partly through the AusAid program has been doing some wonderful work in providing books to local schools around the Kiribati area. MAMA for this particular centre will be providing four-thousand books, as I say, along with some arts and craft equipment and sporting equipment to attract the children into this environment and provide them an area where they have a very positive introduction to education.
COUTTS: And will the books be in i-Kiribati as well as English?
SINGER: They will be yes, it’s a mixture of both. We see it as important that the children of Kiribati and South Tarawa have an introduction to the English language, and we see that as an important part of their curriculum in line with the education system in Kiribati.
COUTTS: And is there a mobile facility for outer islands?
SINGER: Not yet although you might be interested to learn that we have rolled out a number of mobile libraries that have been very successful both in Timor Leste where we partnered with the Alola Foundation (which of course is headed up by Kirsty Sword Gusmao) where we’ve funded a mobile library to access some of the most remote and regional parts of Timor Leste, and give those children access to books that all children deserve, but of course through their isolation it is a very problematic and difficult situation. And only last week we launched a program with Buk bilong Pikinini in Port Moresby to fund Papua New Guinea’s first mobile library which will again provide access to books for those children in remote parts of Papua New Guinea.
COUTTS: And have you got a permanent resource centre in Papua New Guinea as well as the mobile?
SINGER: We don’t at this stage. Our focus is providing funding for that mobile library knowing that our partner organisation Buk bilong Pikinini has built seven different libraries throughout the Port Moresby region, and we wanted to go one step further than that and provide a creative solution to providing books and importantly access to educational equipment to those children that otherwise wouldn’t have access because of their location.
COUTTS: Our interest is in the Pacific of course, you’ve got one in Kiribati now and work in Papua New Guinea, are there any thoughts of other countries across the Pacific being included in your program?
SINGER: There are, we’re very committed to the region and we recognise that there is a lot of work to be done. The region of course faces a number of challenges and as we’ve heard throughout your program this morning education is absolutely key to the development potential and opportunities for all the children in our region. And MAMA looks forward to partnering with other organisations on the ground as appropriate to fund other resource centres.
COUTTS: And where do you get your finances from to carry out these programs?
SINGER: We’ve been very successful through one of our board members, Stephen Brady, who’s attracted great philanthropic support, and that’s been quite important to us in our first couple of years. We’re only a very young organisation. So one of our key focuses going forward is to extend our funding base, and this can be achieved very easily, if only 100 people donate five dollars a week we could roll out two of these libraries each year or continue our roll-out of mobile libraries across the Pacific region.
COUTTS: And what does a mobile library consist of?
SINGER: Well the mobile libraries both in Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea are essentially a van full of children’s books and attractive educational items and arts and craft. They take these vans out to the remote villages and it’s not only providing access to the books for children, but importantly engaging with the local community to have a positive structure around education. And giving some of the parents the tools to be able to read to their children, which we know to be so important in the development of any child.
COUTTS: How often would this mobile be able to visit communities I guess it’s on the move and so do the books get loaned out until the van comes back, or do they have to give it up and just wait for the van to come back next time however long that takes?
SINGER: Well it depends of course on the logistics of these vans getting around to some of these very remote communities. But on some occasions it would be a matter of a van going to a particular community and maybe even staying there for a couple of days. Our estimates suggest that the new mobile library that we’ve just funded in Papua New Guinea will target approximately 90-thousand students each year.
COUTTS: Commendable work. Thanks Paul, and good luck with the opening in Kiribati next week.
SINGER: Thanks Geraldine.