In the early hours of last Monday morning in Port Moresby the terrible price of the random violence that plagues PNG’s capital was laid bare for all to see and a nation lost a precious piece of its future.

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Near Laloki on the city’s outskirts, a gang of cowardly thugs in a mini-van forced a PMV off the road and bashed and stabbed its passengers with bush knives and machetes, killing one and leaving another in a critical condition.

The murdered young man, Rex John from Naduri village about halfway along the Kokoda Track, was travelling to Moresby from his teaching college at Veifa’a to pick up the academic gown he hoped to wear to his graduation as a Community Health Worker this coming Saturday.

Rex was travelling on the bus with his friend and fellow Community Health Worker student, Jackson Fred from Efogi village on the Track, who was also to graduate this weekend. Jackson was also stabbed in the attack but is recovering in hospital.

Both Rex and Jackson were studying on scholarships from the Australian-based not-for-profit organization, the Kokoda Track Foundation (KTF). After graduation, Rex was to be posted back to his home village where he would serve as Naduri’s resident Community Health Worker, giving his community access to basic health care for the first time.

Rex John’s needless death was a tragedy in many ways. His father and nine brothers and sisters were robbed of a loving son and brother. His village of Naduri lost Rex’s hard-won skills as their first-ever Community Health Worker. PNG lost a fine young man who hoped to serve his nation in the same timeless, selfless tradition of the revered Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

Why was Rex John a hero? Because he showed the way to a better future for his nation. He was one of those quiet achievers who are the essential foundations of a healthy and sustainable society. Rex was one of the 1 out of 100 kids who start school in PNG and who make it through to Year 10. He was one of the even smaller minority who make it through to tertiary studies. Rather than being motivated by making money or becoming a Big Man in politics, Rex was determined to help his family, his community and his country by serving them as a qualified Community Health Worker.

Rex had done all the hard work. He had studied diligently and had passed his exams. He was looking forward to his graduation this weekend and to being posted back to his village of Naduri, bringing, for the first time, desperately-need medical skills to the community he loved.

The Kokoda Track Foundation will honour Rex John by creating a Community Health Worker’s Scholarship in his name and by seeking permission to name the Naduri Aid Post after him.

Rex’s death must not be in vain. He must not become another nameless casualty of the guerilla war waged by the thugs against honest citizens.  

All Papua New Guineans must condemn the cowards who snatched Rex John’s life away.

And PNG’s leaders must act immediately to bring Rex’s killers to justice and they must redouble their efforts to fight against the violence that shames their capital city.

For, until Papuan New Guineans can walk the streets of their capital without fear, PNG’s leaders cannot hold their heads high.