Help needed to get power plant running
A lot of people spend time in developing countries because they want to help those less fortunate than themselves.
That’s certainly the case for Jack Woodward but what he achieved was anything but the norm.
The engineering professor moved to Papua New Guinea with his family in 1972.
He’d taught in Canterbury and Adelaide universities but was looking for a new challenge.
He spent seven years as the head of the newly established electrical engineering department at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology in Lae, the second largest city in the country.
His students were the first from the villages and settlements who had graduated from high school.
About 90 per cent didn’t have electricity, he says.
Woodward and some of his colleagues were keen to change that.
In 1975 he helped build a small hydroelectricity plant in the mountainous village of Baindoang.
Then Woodward planned and supervised the construction of a another plant at the village of Faseu, in the Morobe Province between 2002 and 2005.
By then he was retired and living in Auckland, but he made several trips back to Papua New Guinea during the project.
When lights finally went on in Faseu in December 2005 it was very significant, he says.
‘‘It gave the villagers light and the ability to use power tools for construction. Otherwise all the work they did was manual,’’ Woodward says.
It worked well until August 2007 when severe flooding damaged the plant and it’s been out of action ever since.
Woodward, 87, is a member of the Friends of Faseu group which is raising money to have the plant repaired at a cost of around $25,000.
Building it in the first place was quite a feat, he says.
Access to the village is limited so many materials were flown to a nearby airstrip and carried the rest of the way. Some were shipped then driven before being carried the last six kilometres.
The importance of what they were doing was made clear from the beginning.
On the first construction trip Woodward was chatting to the village leader when an old lady approached.
‘‘She said that when she’d gone into the meeting house and seen the concrete and cement she cried because they’d been promised so much by everybody and nothing had ever happened.
‘‘It was very moving but I felt a terrible weight of expectation sitting on my shoulders as well,’’ he says.
Hearing that the plant had been destroyed less than two years later was devastating, he says.
‘‘It was a tremendous amount of work. People really prized the plant and what it did for the village.’’
Collaborative effort: Jack Woodward with villagers who volunteered to help create a hydroelectricity plant in Faseu, Papua New Guinea.
Support needed: Epsom resident Jack Woodward is fundraising to repair a hydroelectricity plant he helped build in Papa New Guinea.