Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 57 - Spring (Sep-Nov) 2015 > Back to Betikama (by Jenny Steeley)

Back to Betikama

by Jenny Steeley

Have you ever been back to a place where you once worked only to find it has completely changed and there is no one there who knows of you or what you did all those years ago? Recently I returned to the Solomons for Betikama High Schools' 65th celebrations. It was 41 years since my husband and I had first arrived to work in I973.

Since returning home many have asked: Did anyone know you? Did you remember any of your former students? Has it changed? Were there disappointments? The answer to most of these questions is a resounding "Yes".

What an awesome 3 weeks filled with unexpected adventures. My friend Cheryl and I did not make many definite plans for our time and we were asked many times apprehensively "How are you going to fill in 3 weeks?" Easily!

One of the special moments for a teacher is when you are able to, years later, meet ex-students, see what they have done with their lives and to now call them your friends. Solomon Island students are very special - only 20% of those who completed Primary school were able to proceed to High School. It was a privilege for them and only the best got through. During the first week Linda took us places that we had been familiar with but now lacked any familiarity. Henry lent us his vehicle. Juliette helped to provide meals. Nanette provided our accommodation in a fiat under her home. Erica, Wendall and Eleanor (my past cookie girls now living in Honiara) treated us to a banquet of Solomon Island food. When I complimented them on being excellent cooks they looked at each other and burst out laughing saying "She taught us!" They also arranged a day to take us to the Gold Ridge gold mine. We were invited to homes for meals and attended a number of Bung teas (best called feasts) in our honour.

Cheryl was a founder of Uplifters. This was a small group of students who set up their amplification equipment to sing and give talks on the back of the school truck, in Honiara, on Sabbath afternoons during the 1970s. So in our first week we attended a number of practices in the evenings at Naha church with most of the original members of the group. They then performed during the Betikama celebration and the last Sabbath took an MV program at Naha church.

We had planned to take the fast boat (12 hours) to the Western Solomons to visit one of my original cookie girls and her husband. They are living at Kukudu on the island of Kolombangara. What a paradise! However boats weren't running and definitely not when we needed them so eventually it was decided to fly. But Gizo's newly upgraded airstrip had not yet been opened by the Prime Minister so the plane could only take us to Munda, from where we had a half hour open banana boat trip through some rough waters to Gizo. But it was the tropics so we dried off quickly before we had another half hour trip across the water to Kukudu.

While the colour of the water was exquisite the swell made the trips interesting when we were in open waters.

To see Mettley (a former teacher colleague) and Saerini again after so many years was wonderfully exciting. We were privileged to stay with them. We were supposed to arrive Monday afternoon and return Wednesday but due to plane problems we didn't arrive till late Tues afternoon and they weren't going to let us go back Wed so they organised to change our tickets to return to Honiara Friday. Saerini had arranged a surprise Bung tea (another feast) for Thursday night inviting ex-students and workers who we had known in the 1970s at Betikama. Once again we were treated to many of the speciality island dishes that they knew we loved.

We were booked to return to Honiara leaving Gizo by boat to Munda, then by plane, on Friday but Redly decided otherwise. Sendah another student who had been very close was in Gizo Thursday making last minute checks for the opening of Gizo airstrip the next day. What eventuated was that Sendah arranged for Cheryl and I to fly back to Honiara on the Prime Minister's charter flight. He was to open the new airstrip and the plane would return that afternoon to pick him up. What an exciting surprise when we recognised our pilot as he descended the stairs just after landing - Gibson another ex-student. So as soon as the PM alighted we departed taking off from the yet unopened airstrip. We felt like royalty waving goodbye to Mettley, Sareini and other friends from the planes' doorway.

I have been asked many times, if I recognised my students from the 70"s. Only a few. There's a big difference between 15 and 55 years of age! BUT as soon as they told me their name or came up to me and said "remember me?" yes I did remember ALL of them. Betikama was my first teaching appointment after graduation but my Solomons Students have always been extra special and now as adults and grandparents they are still very special people.

Have things changed? Yes. Have the people changed? Not really, they have just grown older like the rest of us.

Coming back to Honiara for the last weekend there were more surprises awaiting us. On Sabbath we were to attend the small Alligator Creek church with Nanette to both give a short talk. On the way Nanette informed us she had had a phone call last evening saying the PM was also coming to that church today. His first year at Betikama was our last year. I had not taught him. However as Betikama was a relatively small boarding school of 200-300 students he well knew who I was. Apparently he goes to a different Adventist church each Sabbath and then to other churches on Sunday. It was great to catch up with the now first lady, Bronwyn, who attended church with him. Bronwyn's mother, Ann looked after Jared, my firstborn, for 2 years, in the morning, while I taught. We lived on campus so I would leave for classes with Ann, Brony and Jared all sitting on my top step singing Sabbath School songs. I had caught up with Ann at the Celebration weekend.

The celebrations had been well organised with meetings Friday evening, Sabbath School, Church and MVs all afternoon till closing Sabbath. The afternoon was filled entirely with performances from many of the year groups' choirs who sang special items. It was challenging and inspiring to hear Titus Rore (previous deputy and later principal, now retired) preach Friday Vespers under the stars. Then Lawrence Tanabose (secretary for the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and member of Betikama's first form 5 class that I had taught) for the church service. Pr Lyndon Thrift told wonderfully inspiring stories of his fascinating and demanding 9 months as Betikama's first principal. The Grande Parade March Past on Sunday morning was lots of fun for all as ex-students, arranged in decade year groups, walked from Burns Creek, I.5km away down the dusty potholed road and around the playing field then past the stage laughing and waving. On Sunday afternoon the REAL stories came out with the "Restitution Box" What did happen to those chickens, that cow and the missing bag of rice? With lots of laughter, fun and fellowship the celebrations came to a most enjoyable and memorable end.

There were sad times too, disappointments and failures.

A number of students had already died - far too young. The life expectancy in the Solomon Islands seems to be around 65years with retirement at 55. Should they have kidney problems and need dialysis it is not available. Malaria is again rife along with the lifestyle diseases of diabetes and heart problems.

Some seem to have lost their faith but many still cling to and share their strong faith they knew as students. Are missions worth it? Yes, Yes, Yes.

I discovered that 'The Tension' of 2000-2003 had impacted individuals and the country greatly. Many expressed their concern that if RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) from Australia were to leave completely then the fighting would begin afresh. The stories are limitless. A brother shot, a son shot, a mother and small children having to flee their home and all they posses in the middle of the night never to return, watching tracer bullets from your home, having your car stolen by the 'troops' never to have it returned, a dentist given safe passage to the other end of the island to remove an offending tooth from a major leader.

There is a solid concrete monument in Honiara under which is buried the melted remains of the guns that were handed in to RAMSI which eventually stopped the bloodshed.

So what had become of my students?

They are mothers, fathers, and grandparents, successful business people, doctors, dentists, pilots, government ministers, permanent secretaries and Prime Ministers, teachers and school principals, accountants, childcare teachers. Some even remembered a little of what I had taught them! I was the one who was privileged to have been just a tiny part in their lives. My 6 years in the Solomon Islands in the 1970s were fantastic - returning was also fantastic. I'm so glad I went.

Jesus is returning to this earth on a collection mission - which is available to anyone and everyone. "And behold I come quickly and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. ... Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life and may enter in through the gates into the city" Revelation 22: 21 & 14. Jesus has gone to prepare accommodation for all. He promises a place in a new earth with new heavens filling out the picture.

He is anxious to renew the friendship on a permanent basis.

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 57 - Spring (Sep-Nov) 2015 > Back to Betikama (by Jenny Steeley)