By Poreni Umau in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea
Women wept among the smoking remains of melting water tanks, hot corrugated iron and the fresh smell of burnt paint on wood as men sat speechless, teary-eyed and staring into nothingness.
Before them was a heap of ruins, a five-in-one school building that housed grades 3-6 classes and an administration building in East New Britain’s Takubar village — all burnt to the ground in less than an hour.
Their hard work, sweat, time, many pleas and money raised to build a new school over the years, was gone by a single strike of a match.All at the hands of nearby settler raiders who threatened to burn down the school for reasons known only to them.
Martin Talavura is a teacher at the St Francis Takubar Primary School at the back of Takubar village and Takubar industrial area that leads to Livuan village in the Kokopo district.
He was awakened at 5.48 am at his house at Sotek compound on Thursday to the sound of bells ringing at the school when settlers at the New Radaaz compound entered the school area and started vandalising school property.
He thought it was just the usual morning school bell ringing as he proceeded to prepare breakfast for this children.
He was alerted by his children who returned to tell him that there was noise coming from the school.
‘I saw smoke rising’
“I came out of the house and saw smoke rising up from the school,” Talavura said.
“I walked up and saw several people, but I was scared so I stood from afar.”
He stood and watched helplessly in tears as the classrooms collapsed to the ground.
“I stood and watch as the buildings burnt to the ground,” he said
“I saw this school start and was here to take in the new students.
“My heart was heavy as tears clouded my eyes.
“There were about 15 people, many were just boys led by a few men who came out of the school area and into the compound after burning down the buildings,” he said.
Talavura said the culprits were all just boys, saying he did not know why the school has to suffer and could not understand why people would attack a public institution.
He said the school was established in 2018 to cater for children in the areas of Kabaleo, Bitagalip, Livuan, Ramale, Takubar village and the industrial area, Tokua and even children of the perpetrators.
Grim future for the students
More than 300 students will not be able to attend classes for the rest of the year and 16 families remain homeless following the burning down of the school.
This is believed to be the first time a school property has been burnt down by people in East New Britain province of Papua New Guinea.
The school lost its classrooms that accommodated grades 2-6 classes, its administration building, student academic record books, 800 chairs and desks, water tanks and lawn mowers and brush cutters.
Those people who rented houses in the area were forced to pack and seek refuge elsewhere under heavy police presence. They will return when the situation has cooled down.
According to eye witnesses, a passenger vehicle carrying mothers to their home two days ago was attacked by the settlers and the women were stoned.
Police have attended the scene and are expected to make arrests soon.