The Salvation Army is with us again with their bells and red clothing to remind us to be charitable during the Christmas season. Most of us toss some coins into the pot when we see them.
We all know that the Army does kind things, and see evidence of the deeds at Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving. We see their name mentioned in connection with fires and evictions, and along with the Red Cross, we are sure that someone is always there to help during hard times.
In my travels I have seen the Salvation Army operate in many different ways. Band Concerts in the streets of Australia and Hawaii, shelters in Los Angeles and Manila, and coffee and donuts to soldiers in war zones. Recently, I was made aware of the scope of their concern for people in need by a letter sent to me from Papua New Guinea.
Sogeri National High School is in the foothills of the Owen Stanley mountains, where most of the students come from jungle villages many miles away from the school. There are no school busses, and only a few paved roads in the immediate vicinity of the campus, making it necessary for students to live in dormitories the entire school year.
Although there are many children of school age living in the area, only a few of the lucky ones are chosen to have an education beyond the primary grades. Girls, in particular, are very seldom allowed to become educated beyond the lower grades, as they are needed to work in the family garden. Studying at night is difficult in houses that have no electricity, and libraries are few and far between.
There is no mandated age for school attendance. Schools are not financed by local taxes, but by either religious organizations or the National Government. Somehow or other, the government money for the Sogeri school was recently withheld, and money for food for the students was not available.
For the past couple of weeks, the students had been studying for their Grade 12 final examinations. Their food supply ran out and they were reduced to having a bisuit and some tea for breakfast, no lunch, and a sparse supper of biscuits when available. Some became too ill to attend classes and were too hungry to study. A few of the girl students cried because they were too weak to donate blood as they had promised.
Upon hearing of their plight, Captain Sere Kala of the Salvation Army said, "We are concerneed about the quality of the new nations youth who will be tomorrow's parents and leaders, therefore we must help them." The Education Secretary of the government at first ordered the schools closed but allowed them to reopen after the Salvation Army said it would send food.
The emergency donation by the Salvos, as it is called there, of 20 bags of rice and 20 cartons of tinned fish, enabled the students to have two scoops of rice and a bit of tinned fish for lunch and perhaps another smaller scoop at supper. This food will last only till they have taken their exams, and hopefully by then, the government will be able to supply them with food till the end of the school year.
The day after I received this letter, I overheard some Springstead High School students complaining about the lack of variety in the cafeteria menu, and a neighbor complaining about having to pay school taxes. At the local Wal-Mart, I saw many people passing by the Salvation Army volunteer without tossing even a penny into the pot.
I am sure that the coins from Spring Hill do not go directly to Papua New Guinea, but I do know that money collected here allows the Army nationwide to contribute to the International organization that sends help to third world counties all over the world.
There are no red-coated volunteers with bells tending pots hanging from tripods in Sogeri. Most of the residents in that area depend on their own gardens for the food they eat. Sending a child to a government school is a great sacrifice for them. One of the students said, "Education is our priority, we've just been going with the flow. We've come this far, we cannot give up, we want to pass the final exams."
So think of Sogeri High School the next time you see one of the volunteers outside of the supermarket or department store. If it weren't for the coins given over here, there probably would not be two scoops of rice and a bit of tinned fish in tin plate at Sogeri High Shool in Papua New Guinea at lunch time today.