From ‘I can’t’ to 15 kindergartens

St Paul’s Hahndorf Congregation recently went all-out in boots, hats and denim for its Evening in the Country, raising money to support the Heldsbach Kindergarten Project in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Revellers were treated to a three-course dinner and live country music. Diners were asked to get into the country theme with prizes awarded for the best country male and female outfits, the most outrageous belt buckle, and best country hat and boots.

The Heldsbach Kindergarten Project began in 2008. St Paul’s member Tony Gallasch worked for Lutheran Mission at Heldsbach, Finschafen PNG in the 1960s. In 2008 he was finally able to visit Heldsbach again. The New Guineans continually asked him, “Have the Australians forgotten us?”

They told Tony and his wife Coral of the needs of the Headman Training School at Heldsbach. Here, village headmen are trained to be spiritual leaders in their villages. The school is vital to the ministry in the area, serving more than 60,000 Lutherans in the Kotte district. The German missionaries at Heldsbach, Sabine and Tobias Jaeger, also challenged Coral, an early childhood teacher, to help begin a much-needed kindergarten for the Heldsbach area. “I can’t do that,” Coral told them. The Jaegers replied, “Why not?”

The seed was planted. With the Holy Spirit’s help it flourished.

The parish of St Paul’s, Hahndorf and Redeemer, Nairne, set to work fundraising to create the Reach Out to PNG fund. Glenice Hartwich from the LCA, advised the parish and supported its preparation and planning activities. In September 2009 a team from the parish left the Adelaide Hills for Papua New Guinea, prepared to carry out much-needed maintenance work on the Headman Training Classroom. Team members all paid their own way and the maintenance materials were supplied through the Reach Out to PNG Fund.

At the same time, Coral presented kindergarten teacher-training workshops for village women. The enthusiasm of these women was unprecedented. “When I came here I felt tired and sick. Now I feel happy and alive. God is here in this place,” one of the women commented.

“We are here to learn,” said another. “We want sessions at night as well as during the day.” Coral’s plan was to start just one kindergarten. But God had other plans. Following the workshops, not one, but nine village kindergartens commenced in the villages near Heldsbach.

In 2011, Coral and Tony returned to Heldsbach again. The New Guineans enthusiastically took ownership of this next maintenance project, with the materials again funded by the St Paul’s Parish. About 20 PNG men volunteered to help and had begun work even before Coral and Tony arrived. These men were actively involved in all decision-making and work on the Headmen Training School’s dormitory, ablution block, dining mess, and cook houses.

The maintenance work on the old mission buildings continues, in preparation for the 2016 biennial Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea (ELC-PNG) Synod. This event is expected to bring 5000 people to Heldsbach.

“They just needed encouragement,” says Tony. “I thank God that the New Guineans are now able to assess what needs to be done, and are confident to do the work themselves.”

St Paul’s/Redeemer fundraising efforts have also provided financial assistance for the reprint of 400 copies of the Pikinini Gaden Book, a Christian parenting booklet written in Pidgin and discussing issues such as hygiene and nutrition. These books are distributed to village families through the Headman Training School.

Meanwhile, Coral has continued her work with the village women in Heldsbach, where she prepared and presented more teacher-training workshops in 2011. That time, 36 women from 19 different villages travelled to Heldsbach. Many women, some carrying their babies in billums, walked for several day or hitched rides on the backs of trucks. Basic kindergarten starter packs of educational materials, provided from the fundraising activities, were given to each village teacher as a kindergarten was set up and children were enrolled.

ELC-PNG National Inspector for Non-Formal Education Giemo Sina, who, with Sabine Jaeger, acted as Coral’s interpreter, hopes to eventually translate Coral’s workshop material into Pidgin. He has plans for the material to be printed and distributed to all village kindergartens throughout PNG.

As a result of these training workshops, in an area where Early Childhood Education had never been seen as a priority, 15 village kindergartens were operational by September 2011. One kindergarten, housed in a village bush house, began with an enrolment of 40 children!

By the Grace of God, these Kindergartens are still operating today. Teacher-training workshops have continued with help from Giemo and teachers from the Lae Balob Teachers College. In 2014, discussions began to formally integrate the Heldsbach Kindergartens into the Kotte District of the ELC-PNG.

Although she is now retired, Coral continues to encourage, advise and help the Heldsbach Kindergarten Project. The kindergartens are still desperately poor. There is no money to supply basic requirements such as paper and pencils. The St Paul’s Hahndorf community still fundraises to provide basic educational materials, through events like An Evening in the Country. Funds are regularly sent via the LCA to the PNG Project Office, ear-marked for the Heldsbach Kindergarten Project.

And now, may the God of Peace…. equip you with everything good, that you may do His will, working in you everything that is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20

If you, your school or your congregation, would like to know how you can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email For more information, go to

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