This year’s World Children’s Day theme - “Investing in our future means investing in our children”, is a perfect representation of her approach.
In 2011, Gagena was selected by the community leaders in Taurai village, Tinputz, North Bougainville, to take up “Nature Line” – a weeklong training run by the Autonomous Bougainville Government on using natural objects to recognise letters and sounds.
Inspired by the training, she set up a small classroom under her late brother’s house which later became an early learning centre.
In the years that followed, Gagena continued to use the skills and knowledge she gained from the training to prepare young children to enter into the formal elementary education system.
“I taught my students in our local vernacular and ensured they were able to read, write, count – that they learned phonics and were prepared to enrol into elementary schools,” Gagena said.
Providing early childhood care and education is a holistic approach; focusing on the development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs.
In 2014, her teaching got a boost when she took part in early childhood care and education training supported by the PNG–Australia Partnership.
Early childhood care and education has been identified as one of the best investments a country can make to support the development of individuals, improve gender equality and social cohesion, reduce the need for remedial programs and promote inclusive learning for disadvantaged children, including those with disabilities.
Two success stories that Gagena is reflecting on this Children’s Day are the achievements of 15-year-old Milcha Waimbo, a grade six student at the nearby Numatoa Primary School and Fiona Ato – a student with a disability that has affected her speech.
Waimbo was one of the first nine students who were enrolled at Gagena’s Early Childhood Learning Centre in 2011 and she has been doing well academically.
“I have been performing well and have been in the group of top performing students in school since elementary level and I can say that is because I had a good start to my education,” Waimbo said.
“I can read fluently, write well and I look forward to realising my dream of becoming a pilot so I can one day visit my family in Indonesia.”
Taurai Centre also supports inclusive education. Six year old Ato, who has a disability, enjoyed learning at the centre which prepared her for the move into elementary school.
She is now in elementary one and hopes to be a nurse one day so she can help her community.
Jane Harin, Gagena’s sister who has been teaching at the centre since 2014 and is a strong advocate for children living with disabilities, said: “I want people in the village to know that disability should not be a barrier to education.
“All children with or without disabilities have the right to receive care and support so that they can live a full and independent life.”
Taurai Early Childhood Learning Centre serves as a feeder school to Taurai Elementary School. This school benefits from the Rapidly Improving Standards in Elementary (RISE) project, supported by the Papua New Guinea – Australia Partnership.
(Milcha Waimbo hopes to become a pilot one day)