Links with Siassi Islands

By Nancy Wells

St John’s Lutheran School (recently amalgamated to become Concordia College) enjoys a partnership with a group of schools on the Siassi Islands of Papua New Guinea. Over the past five years, the partnership has grown and strengthened, with a particular focus upon supporting teachers in the development of English language skills for themselves and their […]

St John’s Lutheran School (recently amalgamated to become Concordia College) enjoys a partnership with a group of schools on the Siassi Islands of Papua New Guinea. Over the past five years, the partnership has grown and strengthened, with a particular focus upon supporting teachers in the development of English language skills for themselves and their students. Many challenges exist and sometimes threaten the continuation of the partnership, but we are convinced that we have been called as a school community to be in relationship with the people of Siassi, to offer love, support and professional development.

In April 2010, two St John’s teachers visited Siassi to investigate the possibility of developing a partnership with Aimalu Primary School. Upon their return and recommendation, the partnership was established through the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (ELC-PNG) and the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) International Mission.

During 2012 the ELC-PNG conducted a review of school partnerships across the country, with the intention of strengthening the sustainability and safety of these partnerships. As a result, the St John’s partnership was extended to include all of the kindergartens, elementary and primary schools of the Siassi Islands (approximately 40 in total).

The partnership is founded upon the sharing of Christian faith and encourages and supports all parties in

– the spiritual growth of staff and students

– the sharing of God’s gifts

– the professional growth of staff

– high standards of teaching, learning and leadership

– intercultural understanding and respect

– the development of long term relationships between our communities

When developing a partnership it is important to understand the possibilities and limitations that shape what the partnership will be about. The Siassi schools are resource poor, and while some have more than others, many of the schools are not resourced with furniture, books, paper or pencils. The teachers and wider communities have good reason to cry out for material resources to improve their schools. However, one of our significant challenges as we partner with a large group of schools is to ensure that transparency and equity is maintained at all times. As such, St John’s is not able to provide for the material needs of our partner schools. Instead, we aim to share our professional knowledge and experience of working with children, striving to make what we offer relevant to the Siassi physical and cultural context.

Our partnership is based upon teacher to teacher support, with the aim of improving the standard of teaching and learning in the schools of Siassi. In 2013 and 2015 small teams of St John’s staff travelled to Siassi to offer professional development opportunities to staff from schools across the group of islands. A particular focus of this work has been to improve English language skills amongst staff and their students.

In 2011 and 2014 St John’s hosted two groups of Siassi teachers to participate in the professional life of our school community. During their visits, the Siassi teachers observed teaching and learning in our classrooms, were immersed in English language, inspired and motivated in their own teaching, and were able to worship within an Australian Lutheran community. We are looking forward to hosting another group of teachers at St John’s later this term.

Wherever possible, St John’s teachers reference the Siassi schools and communities within our teaching and learning, developing intercultural understanding and respect. Our Siassi partners are remembered during class devotions and school chapel services through prayers and Pidgin songs that have been learnt. Students’ interest is ignited when they see their own teachers preparing to travel to Siassi and hearing their stories when they return. Yet, it is when Siassi teachers visit us that our community truly feels the human relationship of our partnership. Students love getting to know the visitors and school families who host the visitors in their homes have shared how the experience positively impacted their family. This is a powerful witness of the benefits of our partnership.

At its heart, the partnership is about being in relationship with the people of Siassi – sharing Christian faith and the gifts God has given us, developing intercultural understanding and respect, and the development of long-term relationships between our communities. Spending time together on Siassi and in Adelaide enables us to continue developing these relationships. Although visiting teams are small, they represent the people and the commitment of the St John’s and Siassi communities, to those who are unable to travel.

The remote Siassi Islands are situated between the NE coastline of PNG and the western tip of East New Britain. Access to the islands is by overnight ferry from Lae across the Vitiaz Strait. Shipping schedules are regularly interrupted and there are particular times of the year when it is not wise to attempt a crossing. Most areas of the islands do not have access to phone or internet communication and what is available is far from reliable. All of these factors present challenges to maintaining the partnership. So much so, that at times we have questioned whether the partnership should continue. Yet, we have an overwhelming sense that God has called us to partner with the people of Siassi, not despite the difficulties that stem from their remote location within a challenged nation, but because of these things.

Sometimes our plans are thwarted and we feel less than satisfied with what we have ‘achieved’ but how do you measure the impact of the Lutheran Church of Australia offering love and support to communities, who for many years have grieved the loss of missionaries who lived with them before independence? How do you measure the impact of encouraging communities to grow kindergarten programs for their children where these have not previously existed? Or the collegial support that develops amongst Siassi teachers and schools as they strive to improve the education of their students? We are reminded time and again that ‘just showing up’ is enough. It demonstrates God’s love working through us, anything else that we offer is a bonus.

Developing a partnership takes time, patience and commitment. A school community of staff, students and parents requires regular information to promote and develop the partnership. Partnerships often begin with a small passionate team whose hearts have been touched for a particular people group. That passion can be shared and spread through a school community, but don’t be discouraged if it takes more effort than expected. Schools are notoriously busy places with many programs and agendas vying for time and space in everyone’s minds and hearts. At St John’s, we have a long term vision for our partnership with the schools of Siassi and we are excited to see how God will lead us into the future.


If your school would like to know more about how they can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission service-learning and ministry partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email erin.kerber@lca.org.au. For more information, go to www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/service-learning/

Read more stories about school partnerships and school service-learning at www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/local-partners/schools/

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About the Author : Erin Kerber


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