25 years ago, I was a student at the University of Papua New Guinea, and because I had spent part of my childhood in Porgera in Enga, I was a member of the Enga Students Association and also the Porgera Students Association (total membership of 3). Back then, although a vocal and exuberant group, the Engan students were one of the smallest provincial groups at UPNG, as they were at all tertiary institutions in Papua New Guinea. In those days, then it was common for Engans (and others) to refer to their province Enga as “the last place in PNG”.

Fast forward to today, and in every graduating class at any of the tertiary institutions in PNG, you will find that Engans make up among the largest ethnic representation.

To understand the genesis of this significant rise of the Engan educated demographic, one must start with looking back to what happened in 1997, when the Engan people elected a little known village councillor as their Regional member and Governor, Peter Ipatas. A career local councilor first elected to his local council as a junior Councillor at age 21 in 1979, Ipatas had spent his first 18 years tending to local council work and understand needs and challenges to community development - of the biggest was the economic challenges of accessing education.

The first thing he did when he came into office as Governor in 1997 was to dedicate all royalties from the 6 year old Porgera gold mine to funding education institutes and scholarships for all Engans around the country through to tertiary level, reasoning that if the economic burden of school fees for parents were removed, more Engan children would go to school and more would progress to tertiary studies and beyond. He has maintained that discipline over the last 22 years. The result is the rise of the modern Engan professional contributing to national development of our country.

In retrospect, committing funds to education in this manner would seem a common sense decision to make. But the history of our country shows that many times we shy away from common sense decisions for long term benefit in favour of pragmatism and short-term political expediency. Thus we need to applaud the long term benefit of that decision taken in 1997, and the thought process that governed that decision.

Ipatas will be speaking on his legacy and impact as Governor at the StartupPNG Convention 18-22 November 2019. I hope every Engan who has benefited from Engan education support will be there to applaud.

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