Jack Woodward

Micro hydro project in Papua New Guinea.

During the 1970s Jack and Mary Woodward were working at the University of Technology in Lae, Papua New Guinea, Jack as Head of the new Department of Electrical Engineering, charged with the training of graduates to meet the needs of the modern sector. There they got to know an inspirational Papua New Guinean named Johannicus Yang and joined him in developing a micro hydro scheme in Baindoang in 1975. But after returning to New Zealand the Woodwards never forgot the pressing and largely unmet needs of the rural sector, which became the driving force behind a dream, shared with Yang, to build a micro hydro in Yang’s home village of Faseu. When Yang moved back to Faseu to teach at the nearby Gububang Primary School in 2000 it seemed time to put Jack’s feasibility study from1984 into practical application, though the final work visit did not take place until 2005.

The beneficiaries of the scheme are the inhabitants of an area of approximately one kilometre radius, with a Primary School serving a number of villages in the general area, with a student roll of 250 and six teachers, and an Elementary School for the first two years of schooling. Those of us who turn on a light switch without a thought may find it difficult to understand the vast change electric light can make to village life in terms of the potential, especially in education. Faseu made it clear from the beginning that its number one priority was electricity, ahead of water, another vital need, though there is the spin-off that the micro hyrdro water intake will also serve as a source for a gravity water supply system.

Funding came from significant contributions from Friends of Faseu, an international group of 30 donors (mainly those who had worked with Jack and Mary in PNGUT), the NZ Society of Friends, NZAid and the Community Development Scheme (AusAid), while up to 10 % of the total cost was borne by the local community, with the provision of local materials as well as both skilled and unskilled labour wherever possible, the work teams and tasks for the next day being organised each night by the local committee.

The project involved Jack in five visits to PNG over an 11 year period, some of them hair-raising, such as the time Jack’s driver on a pot-holed road between Lae and the airport had to take evasive action to avoid ambush by a rascal wielding a shotgun.

Access, in a country with almost no roads, and those poorly maintained in this high rainfall environment, was a huge problem. Building materials such as pipes and cement, arriving by sea at Finschafen from Lae, took one day to be transported inland to Sattelberg and thence manually on difficult tracks through the mountainous terrain to Faseu taking at least another day. Jack was also able to take basic medical supplies such as analgesics and ‘expired’ antibiotics donated by Medical Aid Abroad NZ for use in the village. He came near to needing some medical help himself when he encountered a snake on the track when coming back from a shower in the village spring clad only in a towel and jandals!

Without the means of transport by road, two cargo flights, at $2,5000 a time, had to be chartered into Masa airstrip, high on the shoulder of the mountain above Faseu, whence the villagers used their great ingenuity to transport 500 kg drums of cable down the bush tracks to the village. One way or another they managed to get the materials on site, eliciting amazement and respect from Jack.

The lack of any sort of communication between Faseu and New Zealand made for inevitable and lengthy time delays, Yang’s post box three or four days’ journey away in Lae being visited perhaps only once a term. Imagine if you can the difficulty of managing all aspects of the project remotely from Auckland, in the absence of any NGO in Papua New Guinea capable of handling them.

Jack had the support of a young Civil Engineering friend Andrew Duncan in the construction and commissioning of the scheme in 2005, and again to assess the damage after a violent cyclonic storm caused a landslide and flooding in the stream above the micro hydro head-works making the scheme non-operational.

This hydro scheme has an intake weir, a 220m pipeline carried for almost half its length on a rock ledge excavated by hand, and a single phase 50Hz 8kW Turbine and Generator set in a small Power House.

A 1000 volt underground cable 800m long transmits power to a Switching Centre, thence an underground cable supplies power to three communal buildings, the Elementary School, the Meeting House and the Church, and to a number of outdoor lanterns. The provision of domestic lighting through rechargeable lanterns or battery systems is a possible development.

Communication with Faseu is still far from perfect but at least Yang now has a cell-phone, though it is usually out of range or Yang has it turned off to save the battery.

The Faseu community understands that what has been achieved so far is only one step along the development path. Their self-confidence has been boosted by their part in a relatively complex undertaking, both is terms of mastering technical tasks and in working together in planning and decision-making. A Trust, set up by Jack’s nephew Fergus, who was able to visit Faseu at one point with Jack, is set up to include the fostering and implementation of development activities in the general Faseu area, and has as trustees Jack, Andrew and Fergus. Fundraising to complete the restoration of the micro hydro scheme and completion of a water supply is about to begin, while a new classroom block at Gubabang Primary School carries the signage Pro. J Woodward Building in acknowledgement of funds made towards the roofing iron.

The success of Faseu has ignited the interest of other rural communities and their hope for something similar, yet without support from their government and the will of one man with the relevant expertise to turn a dream into reality, little change can be expected.