Mildred Kelokelo is a PhD candidate in the School of Biological Sciences.
As I look back on my life, I realize how great it has truly been despite all the bumpy roads encountered. I consider my childhood one of the best and I am indebted to my parents for it. I grew up in a large family consisting of four sisters and two brothers. My family has always been with me throughout my education endeavours and life experiences. My parents taught me to strive to be anything that I wanted to and encouraged me to follow my dreams. Most of my childhood was spent with my siblings and parents and these are the most cherished memories I treasure.
I come from a small town, Alotau, situated on the easternmost part of Papua New Guinea. Being a maritime province, access to the coast, beaches and islands was easy. My father was, at that time, a prominent fisheries officer, so had access to boats which we often hired to go picnicking, camping and holidaying on the islands.
Most weekends were spent on the beach with my family. A typical day would be picnicking, swimming, fishing, diving and having fun on the beach. My parents’ love for animals was instilled in me throughout my childhood, and my siblings and I had a little zoo. The animals always came in pairs (a female and male) as companions and as equals, since my parents considered it fair for both my sisters and brothers. The male animals were owned by my brothers, while the females were my sisters’ and my responsibility.
The zoo hosted animals including two turtles, two possums, a flying fox, a hornbill, a cockatoo, two sugar gliders, two guinea pigs, five ducks and five chickens, and several cats and dogs. With a large yard, my parents were able to cater for all the animals and there was enough space for us to play and have friends over. Being a child was so much fun.
In Grade 5, I decided on my dream job. I still remember writing it down in a friend’s profile book. It was simply a school exercise book that was passed around our circle of friends to write things we wanted the owner to remember about us. In my section, where it stated “future job”, I wrote “marine biologist” and styled it by spelling it backwards so that no one could read it, because I was unsure if that was what I wanted. I graduated from primary school and went to a boarding school: Sacred Heart Secondary School-Hagita, run by the Catholic Mission. It was here that I learned a lot about myself – spiritually, academically and personally, and I am grateful to have passed through this school.
Life at home was rough with my parent’s separation. My father resigned from his job and served time in jail, while my mother moved back to her village. She then moved to town and spent a few years living in a transit house, trying to support my siblings and I while we were in school. She finally moved home and settled when my youngest sister graduated from college. Although it was tough, my parents ensured all our needs were met, and instilled in us the importance of formal education. I remember studying smart and keeping busy with school activities to forget about home issues.
On weekends, I felt it my responsibility to visit my father as I was the eldest. So every Saturday after work parade, I would pack my father’s lunch – consisting of rice cooked in coconut milk, with pieces of chicken and green leafy vegetables and fruits, along with his requested items – and walk down to the prison, a 30-minute walk from my school. I would spend the day with my father then head back to school, or else go to town to see my mother and help her if required.
When I was in Grade 12, I decided to change my dream job because of my family issues. I thought it would be better to take up teaching so I could graduate within two years, get a decent job and help support my siblings who were all at school. I mentioned it to my parents and got a good scolding. I did so well that I could apply for a science course rather than teaching, and that is what my parents wanted. They told me not to use our family problems as an excuse to not pursue my dreams.
I applied for the Fisheries and Marine Resource course my father took some thirty years ago and was accepted. On completion of my undergraduate studies, I took an internship job to assist with a mangrove crab market survey. During my internship, I attended a workshop where I met a researcher who saw the potential in me and offered me a scholarship. I took the offer and moved to Guam to complete my Masters’ degree, conducting research in understanding the sexuality and sexual maturity of a hawkfish species.
With the successful completion of my degree, I returned home with high hopes of getting a decent job where I could use the skills and knowledge I’d gained as a student. All attempts were unsuccessful, and I ended up working in a supermarket as a cashier while seeking opportunities. One day after work, however, I checked my email and saw a PhD scholarship being offered at the University of Newcastle. Excited about the opportunity, I took a day off to complete the application and submitted it. I got accepted – so here I am, pursing my dream.
It’s been a bumpy road, but I am still striving. I look forward to completing my graduate studies successfully and being able to secure a decent job back home, where I can share the knowledge and skills I’ve learned to help conserve, sustain and manage marine resources.