My education journey from Jiwaka to UPNG

The Mek family in Iwaka province, Papua New Guinea
The Mek family in Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea (Robert Mek)

I was born in Gulka (Kimil), one of the remotest villages in Jiwaka Province. Gulka is situated between Jiwaka and Western Highlands Province, so as I grew up I learned the cultures and lifestyles of both provinces. I was the third-born child of Simon and Polti Mek and I have three younger siblings. My dad and mum are subsistence farmers. They sell ripe bananas, greens, peanuts, red pandanus and pigs to raise money. Dad dropped out of school in grade four. Mum has never been to school.

We have no access to proper roads and electricity. The rugged terrain, jungle, valleys and big rivers in the Highlands region make access to basic services a difficult task. Illiteracy and birth rates are very high, and some mothers die trying to give birth. We often have shortages in drugs and medical facilities in our community health centre. Growing up in such an unfavourable environment made it extremely hard to access education. Despite that, I made up my mind to go to school.

In 2007, I was enrolled to do kindergarten (prep) at Gulka Elementary School. I used to wake up at around 4am to prepare for school. My mum would cook four sweet potatoes: one for breakfast, one for lunch and two for afternoon dinner. The distance from home to school is about five kilometres. Because of the distance and frequent bad weather, no one else was interested in going to school. I used to walk back and forth by myself. I was often late for class. I sometimes missed classes due to heavy rain, floods and landslides.

For grade three, I went to Kimil Primary School, a Catholic mission school. When I first went there, I could not cope with its tough rules and regulations. I had no friends to share all my problems with. I did not understand anything I learnt in class. When a teacher asked me a question, everyone laughed because my answers were always wrong.

At the end of the term, my report card ranked last. My parents could not read the comment on the report, they thought everything went well. I literally lost tears but I did not give up easily. Apart from helping my mum in the farm garden, I committed all my remaining time to studies. I read a lot of textbooks. I consulted my teachers for help after hours.

My marks and academic performance slowly improved. I completed grade eight in 2015 with good grades on my certificate. Many people did not believe my academic performance for I was a village kid. They thought I would not get a secondary school offer. But never at any point in time did my parents let me down. They had greater hope for me. They continued to motivate me when I lacked motivation, and pushed me forward when I fell back.

Waghi Valley Secondary School was far away from my village. I walked to catch the bus and the trip took around three hours. When I had no bus fare, I took the shortest route through the bush. The bush track was not in good condition. It took me around six hours to reach school when I travelled by foot. During the highest rainfall around June, July and August, I had the most difficulties going to school. But I still managed to overcome them. I successfully completed grade nine.

I thought I would do the same in the next academic year. Unfortunately, an election-related fight broke out. Some of our classrooms were burnt down. In fear, the teachers left school. I was unable to go to school because the school was on my enemy’s land. The fight continued for two months, until the police came to solve it. Classes recommenced, but we had lost so much of our precious time to prepare for exams.

Our teachers squeezed up everything. They gave us piles of handouts, old exam papers and reference books. When I went home, I had no time for my friends and family. I sat in my room and studied. I had no proper light at night and used the old torch that my grandmother gave me.

In January 2018, the selection lists for grade eleven in various secondary schools in Jiwaka were posted at our district office. I checked for my name, but I couldn’t find it. My parents shared my pain. A few days later, however, I received a phone call from my uncle in Port Moresby who told me I had been selected to do grade eleven at Sogeri National High School. It was one of the most exciting moments in my life. Everyone in my clan and tribe was so proud of me.

At Sogeri National High School I met new friends from across the nation. Some people were dark in colour (especially from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville), some were brown, others were white. Their cultures and lifestyles were so different and unique. I faced many challenges academically and socially. Studying in a very demanding and competitive institution was the greatest challenge. Many students came from international and private schools with better grades. I was the smallest fish in a big ocean full of whales.

As the time went by, I started to make friends with everyone. I found that people were so kind, loving and caring. We built an unbreakable bond. As a result, my mind settled. I fully focused on school. Suddenly my marks improved. I scored very high grades which boosted me to study extra hard. Unexpectedly, I secured the top placing across all subjects. At the end of the year, I topped the school. I was awarded the dux of humanities and social sciences. It was something beyond my expectation.

I was accepted to study business management and accounting at the University of Papua New Guinea – it is what my parents dreamed of and wanted for me. I’m now grateful to be a final year economics student here at the university.

If it was not for the commitment, sacrifices, courage and priceless advice of my beloved parents, I would not have come this far. I owe the greatest debt of gratitude to my parents. If I’m lucky enough to become successful with riches one day, I will establish a school back in my remote village to make sure my younger siblings and those generations that will come may not face the problems I once faced.

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The writing of this blog was undertaken with the support of the ANU-UPNG Partnership, an initiative of the PNG-Australia Partnership, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views are those of the author only.

Robert Mek

Robert Mek is a final year economics undergraduate at the University of Papua New Guinea.


  • I literally cried reading this article. I have gone through similar experience. However, what he has gone through is far worse than mine.

    This is really inspiring anyway.

  • Thank you so much young man. It shows how hard work and commitment pays off regardless of our background and up bringing.

  • Inspirational and motivational. Thank you for sharing the piece of your life journey to encourage the youngers ones to prosper in life and accomplish their dreams. Proud of your brother. For PNG and Jiwaka #Leadership_Wahh

  • Thank you brother for sharing your experience and challenges that you overcome, it also motivate me to be, and also goes to others too. I hope our good Lord have future plan for you 👍🏼🙏🏼.

  • Young Man thank you for sharing your experience. Your experience is full of courage and determination that can influence other young kids of today, you’ve overcome all difficult times and success is just around the corner. You are a man of endurance and I Pray Our Good Lord will fulfill your Dreams 👃

  • Wow! brother, your background information shared is unique and very challenging to me. I hope others are also inspired too.
    Facing challenges. Encounter bright future.

  • Brother, thank you for publicizing your school journey; Very inspiring and I know it will give strength for those who will follow the same journey.

  • Congratulations on your success son, God has been with you thru out your journey. Stay fast with God and remeber to enlighten your wonderful parents lives. Keep shinning more.

  • In life, everyone has different battle to fight for their betterment.

    The true warrior defeats and stands out on the battle as a legend.

    Brother you are legend of your own battle.

    Your future looks promising. All the best in your future endeavor.

    Last and not the least is your hard working and struggle parents, make them proud and happiest parents as they deserved that.

    Love you my Ekni brother.

  • Brilliant 👏 with God in the center. son, your story made me cry as a mother and I too had a similar story of my up bringing from Matupit to Manus. To be where I am today as a UPNG graduate in pure politics and Public Administration now rename Public Policy Management.

    Your story can help parents who are struggling to make their children think out of the box.

    It will help students still in studying.

    May God three in One keep Blessing you in your 3rd phase of Accademic life.

    God First !

  • Such a very inspiring story. Congratulations for your achievement. Your parents are very proud of you.🙏

  • In my lecturing in the School of Business and Public Policy at UPNG, I have often wondered about the backgrounds of my students and what education and personal determination it has taken for them to reach University.

    Thank you Robert for setting out so clearly what your journey has been and your many educational successes. And congratulations to your magnificent and supportive parents.

    With many best wishes for your graduation and eventual employment.

  • Very inspiring and a lesson to those who give up easily. Life is tough and we need to embrace it to be who we want to be. Never give up hope coz there is a saying goes, there is always light in every tunnel. Your story is helpful to those who are struggling right now and a great enjoyment to those who have overcome those struggles and could not express it. My brother you made it through and I am a proud sister here. Keep your head held high and strive for what you believe in. Most of us believe in you and you have something very important in you which one day you will show it to our little community (Gulka) and to the whole country. God Raise David from trash and made him great King. The God of impossible is with you.🙏Praise to God and Congratulations to you on your big day. 🥳👍

  • In every success there is a struggle you have to suffer in order to leave the life of your dreams and that’s exactly how your story turned out to be and it’s very interesting.

    I hope your story will encourage and motivate more little ones that are coming up today.

    As a Jiwaka’n myself when I read it I saw a true fighter right there and I was so proud that someone from my home province could make it this far despite the challenges faced.
    I want to wish you congratulations 🎊 on your success and a happy life ahead and please do not forget to give back to your community.

    Last but not the least thank God and always put him first.

  • Very igniting, powerful and inspirational story. As your close friend (Songang), brother and leader whom I have known you personally for two years (2018-2019) at Sogeri National School of Excellence. I was really blessed to see this blazing stiey as one of his closed, I was never one time hear this.

    Anyways, my Songang (Chief) of Jiwaka Province and the Nation of PNG. “THERE ARE NO STARS ✨ without the scars, and EVERY Stars ✨ came out of the ALTAR of Sacrifices

    One blo yu lo PAU

  • Praise God for the success after the struggles and pains. I wish I congratulate the parents of yours myself. They are outstandingly suppotive in your upbringing.

  • This story really breaks 💔😢 my heart because I’ve faced such tough times during my school days as you did. My brother you have made a right decision and I hope and predict that you have more and more good things to come on your way so don’t give up from from your dreams and goals. Thank-you and may the God almighty bless your hard work.

  • Perseverance and hard work pays off in life. It is the investment of your time, effort and that of your parents. If your parents were ignorant from the very beginning, you wouldn’t be where you are now. I had one of the best mum’s in the world whom I lost 2019 due to Pancreatic cancer. I couldn’t measure and pay back enough dad’s hard work, perseverance, time, commitment, resources (money, pig, garden food), etc.

    You had best parents in the world.

    Give them your best before anyone else around you.

    You have a bright future, young man.

  • Its amazing what one can accomplish when he sets his heart and mind on something, backed with the right support & environment, hard work pays off. I wish you every best in the years ahead, and thank you for sharing your inspirational story.

  • Your inspirational experience of what you have encountered really depicts where you are now and what many young Papua New Guinea’s are facing. I am indeed blessed and inspired by your story.

  • Its really inspirational, motivational and a challenging story comes from a struggle fighter, commitment, and self-disciplined person who overcome every challenges and difficulties in life’s to come this far, may God keep bless you in your career.✍

  • Very inspired story drawn for our upcoming pupils to take heed. Best are yet to come … cheers.🙏🏽👑❤❤

    • Very inspiring indeed.
      I am one of those who crave for education. One day I wish to write a book to inspire others.

      from OSOM

  • Very inspiring! It really gives me hope to share with my kids to persevere despite all difficulties they encounter in lives.

  • Thank you for sharing this hardship, made me tears covered as I read coz your story strengthen me to walk on such journey

  • This is what we all have gone through. This made us to be who we are today. This story gives me courage to stand at my feet to give the best to my people in remote area of Raikos district in Madang province. God located us in the remote area because we can survive through struggle. WE ARE THE STRONGEST IN CHRIST ALONE.

  • Your story is very inspiring to me.
    To become a better person in the future we will have to face struggles and challenges in life first and let those challenges and struggles become as our stepping stone. Congratulation to you and all the best in your education career 🙏🙏

    • When first seeing the headline I believed in my heart that this would be a Sogeri National High Student. And while going through I was shocked,yeah that’s was the boy’s face I still can remember when I was at twelfth grade in 2018. I can remember!

  • That’s show the real definition of how powerful you are congratulations on you my finest Brother and a good role model as all. Very painful story inspiring us a lot because of your struggles, commitment and self-sacrifice that pays off, you deserve the most better in your next schooling journey. As you proceed on with your next career may our good Lord above bless you and inspired you with more good thoughts so that you will produce more out of it and those ones that come after you may know and follow your footsteps. Congratulations 🙏 my Finest Brother keep going and can’t wait to see the next part. ❤✊

    Thank you
    𝗠𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗮 𝗧𝗿𝗮𝗳𝗳𝗶𝗰.🚦

  • Well done my champion. I’m more than happy for you. Your very inspiring story is a walking stick for those who are still struggling out there. May our good Lord bless you and protect you in your final year of studies and in your future career.

    Much love. Hu angim.
    Mangi Olmap Bush♥️

  • Dear my brother you are my motivation through your stories.

    You are one of those people that keeps PNG hoping for a better tomorrow.

    Keep up and get going angam.

  • Very interesting and an inspiring story … Congratulations for successfully withstanding the challenges to get to the Point you are right now … All the best in your final year studies @UPNG …

  • Mr Robert Mek, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good time … “. G. Michael Hopf.

    Your story is inspiring and I hope to read a full autobiography in the future if I’m lucky. All the best in your final year of study @UPNG and may the good Lord continue to lead you …

    • Tough life experience as young human we proud of you 👏 🥰 💛

      Your experiences are our motivation ✨️ 💪 🙏 🙌 🙂 ❤️

  • Very inspirational, commitment, sacrifice and struggles is most important to become successful person.

  • What an inspiring story of self-sacrifice, commitment, and endurance that pays off. The characters you displayed are associated with many successful men on the planet. Your story is an inspiration to others who may be struggling with the same situation. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Good luck in the remaining months of your school life.

  • An inspiring story of hardship, perseverance, and triumph. Congratulations, Robert. I wish you well in your endeavours to assist others access opportunities for education.

    • Very inspirational and motivational journey. For every success there’s always a challenge. Congratulations for your achievement 🙏🙏

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