Papua New Guinea
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The Rei Gari story of PNG education

Education is the one highway that leads to true freedom. In that sense, here’s one ‘freedom fighter’s’ memories of how he gave all he had to free his country.

At 84/8, retired educationist Rei Gari feels the coolness of impending rain at his Gabagaba village although Central Province is reeling under the savagery of El Nino conditions.

But deep within, he is acutely aware that in a matter of days, the country he served with fierce dedication will be turning 48; his age back to front! Seems like yesterday is not so far away.

Rei Gari sees the survival of PNG as the success of education. With the opportunity to let others know his side of the story, this one Motuan can be content that his beloved PNG is in safe hands. It is a matter of great satisfaction that he had a hand in it. Please read on.

The bottom line, he says, lifting one hand to clear the clouds blotting his ageing eyes – is that, the building blocks must continue. “The only way we will survive is to keep up with the momentum; everything we do must link up.

That is the secret really. Leaders at all levels must believe in this great enterprise so we can stand proudly among nations; that we achieved it. I thank God that I’ve made it to see PNG come this far, and I appeal to politicians at all levels to see what is more important and serve the country well,” said Mr Gari. Fighting back tears.


He went out of his village to add value to all that he received. Giving back meant giving his life meaning. Mr Gari mentions God a few times so let’s expand a bit. God is love and love is light. As teacher, Gari spread the love of God by letting his light shine in the darkness. To educate and help people escape poverty is to give them light. Mr Gari’s personal story lifts all teachers. It’s a reminder that education was the golden key and it is a success story with the country on the cusp of its golden jubilee. It is the contribution of Gabagaba village to
PNG independence.

When I arrived in Konedobu to train it was 1972 and the name Rei Gari kept coming up. I knew he was the man. The name stuck fast but it was to be 50 years before we met and the story has truly cured when it is back to Gabagaba where it all started to bring it to light.

When my uncle Leonard Bundu went to England and came back to be in charge of education in his Northern Province, it was like, wow.

But I had no idea how it all came together until I met Mr Gari, so really, the story, as you will see, has come full circle. Mr Gari kept thanking God for the opportunity given by the Post-Courier and you can understand why. Please read on.


Rei Gari joined the Department of Education in 1962 after training as a C-Course teacher which was the top level of the time. The teacher training, carried out concurrently with Sub Queensland Junior level and Junior level studies were for Grades Six, Seven, Eight and Nine at Sogeri. People one year ahead of him did not do well; only one or two managed two subjects; the rest were not good for PNG. Rei Gari was the only student who did well with six subjects and a chap from Porebada came a close second with four subjects.
“Michael Somare was ahead of me doing his final year. Sogeri was the only educational institution at the time. Students were finishing their schooling and teacher-training at the same time and sent out to teach in coastal areas. Education was coming in slowly – Rabaul, Popondetta, Milne Bay, Daru. Those were the coastal areas where Europeans were quick to enter and establish schools.


Mr Gari is in good health and his memory is still sharp as pin. But his hearing is failing so it was a good time to talk to him at this time, thanks to the initiative of his sister’s daughter, Raela Wari from Gavuone, Marshall Lagoon. Mr Gari’s eldest son Malcolm collaborated with Raela.
Mr Gari was the first secondary school teacher. He started his teaching career as Demonstration School Teacher because of his performance at Sogeri. It was the start of a long career from 1962 to 1999 which kicked off in earnest with Queensland Adult Matriculation Course at the Administrative College, Waigani. At the end of that course, Gari became the first secondary school teacher at Iarowari as subject master for Maths A and Maths B. “I had to supervise three other teachers below me; they were Europeans, you know,” said Mr Gari.
After becoming high school teacher, Gari rose to inspector and went to Goilala for 12 months. Attempts were being made to bring Mission Education into the main stream and Mr Gari was inspecting schools.
“At the time Les Johnson was the Director of Education. He wanted me to continue my education and was still negotiating for a scholarship when I chose to marry my girlfriend, Orama Isaiah of Kemaia village Saroa. We met at Port Moresby Teachers’ College and it was Percy Chatterton who married us at Koke.


Then he rose to Superintendent, the first for PNG and his first positing was to Popondetta. Popondetta these days might seem like backwater but in the early days it was the centre of education in Papua. In 1970, Gari won the Commonwealth Scholarship and went to Leeds University in the United Kingdom for two years. On his return, he became superintendent and was posted to Popondetta for three years. He took over from Peter Wiliams and Norm Wales. It was also the time he noticed Leonard Bundu who was to later attend Leeds University and become a superintendent. He went with Madi Roua of Kilakila.
Within the first year at Popondetta, Gari attended the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) . The Australians who united PNG for independence – the patrol officers or Kiaps – were trained at ASOPA. “I went to ASOPA to see how the Australians were managing the education of the Kiaps,” said Mr Gari.

From Popondetta he went to Lae as Superintendent. All schools and inspectors reported to his office. At that time there were Europen teachers. He was there for a year before being posted to Kerema. Gari’s last positing was to Chimbu before being posted to headquarter to work with Europeans. His main task was to write the duty statements for teachers at all levels.

He also carried out world education research with Dr Boland, director for World Education Commission, Starting in 1995, Gari toured Germany, France, Spain, England, Wales, Ireland, Canada and San Francisco.

Back in the formative years, he conducted research also with UNESCO and toured Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. “President Julius Nyrere was talking about self-reliance and people were really interested to know what he meant so UNESCO selected me for the Pacific. But something went wrong while on his way to Kenya and it happened when PNG was celebrating Independence for the first time. He got banged at Madagascar because no one had ever heard of PNG and Mr Gari was arrested on suspicion of being a spy from Guinea.

It took a quick call to Vincent Eri, PNG Consul in Sydney with the help of Australian High Commissioner in Madagascar to secure Mr Gari’s freedom.

Straight after he became the first national Superintendent were Mata Tau, also from Gabagaba and Taina Dai of Tubuserea, A year later came Geno Roakeina from Aroma side who became the second Secretary of Education after Alkan Tololo.

Vincent Eri who later became governor-general had teaching background. There is a subtle hint of regret in his voice when Gari says: “Somehow I was pushed into further studies; losing me in that way.”

Mr Gari was born on 14 January 1935.
He is head of Gaire clan. His wife passed away on February 10, 2014. From their four children came 23 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
He has received several decorations.
Asked about independence, he said: “Well, personally I hope I am not creating a problem here, but we rushed it a bit. I was hoping more people would learn from Europeans; many of our people had not come up to a higher level.
“Politicians were overriding public servants who are the backbone of any country. But God is so good.”