Monday, September 30, 2013


On August 9, I (Thomas) was invited to speak at Twinky Winky International School in Port Moresby as part of their closing ceremony to the 2013 National Book Week celebrations.
The school, which takes in students from kindergarten to Grade 6, started the day with some songs and prayer, with the programme directed by mistress of ceremony, the 10-year-old Grade 5 student Evangeline Gideon.
After the speeches and item presentation, I accompanied some staff and students to visit the Port Moresby General Hospital children’s ward where the students gave books, dolls, toiletries and sweets to the children there. 
The message below is an edited version of the talk given by me to the children on that day.

Photo: Grade 1 students at Pinky Winky International School performing an item during the National Book Week closing ceremony.

Good morning students. Good morning teachers, parents, guardians, visitors and friends of Twinky Winky International School.
Thank you for giving me the privilege to speak to you on this special week – the National Book Week.
You have been told time and again that books are important – they are valuable.
They help you develop your communication skills – reading, writing and speaking the language you are reading in, English or any other language.
If you want to be a good lawyer or judge, you must read books. If you want to be a writer, you must read books. If you want to become a good journalist, you must read. If you plan to be a scientist, engineer or doctor, you must read – and love to read.
Reading also helps you learn a lot – a lot about different things.
If I leave you today, I want you to remember a phrase: “I must read!”
You must repeat it, do what is says and you would become successful in school and later in life.
Reading does not only help you do well in English or literature, where you compose story plots, heart-warming poems and award-winning screenplays. No, it also helps create new technologies or methods of doing something in the scientific or engineering world.
That is what I want you to learn today. 
Let me point you to a few people who were readers. Their lives show their ability to create or invent new things or procedures. Later, I will say a few things about myself and what books were to me.

The first person is the inventor of the incandescent light bulb. He also invented the first sound-recording device called the phonograph. (“Phono” means sound and “graph” means to write, or record.)
That person is Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931). Edison stared talking late in life, at the age of four. But as soon as he could talk, Edison asked people questions about everything. When they said “we do not know” he asked them: “Why?”
After only three months in Grade 1, Edison left school because a teacher called him a bad name and his mother taught him how to read, write and do arithmetic.
When he could read, Edison borrowed books from a library and read them. Soon he completed all the books in the library – shelves and shelves of books.
With so much information in his mind, he was able to come up with many ideas and inventions that have improved the lives of men, women and children.

The second person is Mike Lazaridis (1961-). Lazaridis and another person invented Blackberry, the smartphone that allows you to send emails to your friends. It was like a portable computer.
At the age of 12, Lazaridis won a prize for reading all the science books in Windsor Public Library, Ontario, Canada.
With so much information in his mind, like Edison, in years to come he created an important device for everyone.
Both Edison and Laziridis became good businessmen. Laziridis is doing very well today.  

Then there is Dr Ben Carson (1951-), the medical doctor (or neurosurgeon). 
When Carson was about the same age as some of you are now, his mother who was a Grade 3 school-leaver, told him and his elder brother to watch less television and borrow books from the library to read.
Every week Carson and his brother would go to the public library, borrow a book and read. At first he did not like it. But over time the interest developed and he realised that he was learning a lot too – outside of class and more than what his teacher was teaching him.
The mother also told Carson and his brother to write a book report/review on each book they borrowed each week. The report would be checked by the mother.
Such simple things helped Carson develop his mind, something that you all must do in school.
As a doctor, he has devised new ways of performing difficult but life-saving operations. 
So, you see, reading helps us in many ways.

Before working as a journalist, I was teaching students in school – those who were much older than you.
While I taught during the day, I was reading in the night and writing my own stories. Those stories were about places, people and things that interested me. 
I am privileged because I grew up in a home where both my parents taught others – my mother was a primary school teacher back in the 1970s, while my father was a lecturer in a teachers’ college.
From them I learned the worth of books early.
No, I did not learn to read before I went to school, but I would sit down at home, take down a few books from the shelves and flip through the pages of the few big picture books and magazines that we had. 
Those showed me places and people in different parts of PNG and the world.
My father’s friend worked in a news agency and would also bring along comics and magazines that we loved browsing through. 
When I was 12, I attended a boarding school and there was a library where we could borrow books each week.
The librarian was a Catholic nun and gave us a simple exercise to do – for each week.
And I think that exercise was the single most important thing that helped develop my writing skills – to express what I learned by reading and felt about books I read.
We were told by the library teacher to read at least one book a week and write a book review of the book that we read.
At that time there were a lot of us who read three or four books a week but reviewed just one.
The review was simple. We were to describe in a few paragraphs in a given exercise book what the book was about.
We were told to write the title of the book at the top and the name of the author (or authors) under that as well as other details such as which company published it, in what year and the number of pages the book had.
In the exercise we could also express what we felt about the story in it.
That simple exercise brought together two important skills that you all must work hard to master in school and out of school – reading and writing.
Good writers read a lot. Experts in writing tell us that if we want to develop our writing skills, we must read - and read a lot.
With reading skills, we must learn to write properly - and be clear with what we write.

Readers not only make good authors of books or write good scripts for plays – they also produce new technologies.
The lives of Edison, Lazaridis and Carson show that inventions or new methods and processes of doing things in science are created by readers.
In the lives of those three, you saw that when they were like you – nine, 10 or 11 years old – they gave time to read and loved reading.
It was not university that prepared their minds. It was the exercise of reading the hundreds of books while they were young as you are now.
One day, one of you, a student at Twinky Winky may create a new smartphone or technology. But to create new technologies, you must have ideas and the best way to get a lot of ideas is to read.
To end my talk, let me read something I wrote for you. (See what I read to them on Aug 14's post.)

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