BY BARNABAS MANEBONA
THE premier primary school of the Seventh Day Adventist in Bellona has been closed following failure by the SDA Mission to develop the school after 54 years.
Owner of the land on which the school stands, Jim Seuika, closed the Mataiho SDA primary school in response to decades of neglect by the SDA Mission.
Mr Seuika explains that his father had allowed the three-hectare land for the Mission as goodwill for the school to be built there, with absolutely no cost to the SDA Mission.
The school was establishment in 1964 and grew through the 60s and 70s, at one stage being the only primary school in the province.
However, in the 80s the school’s infrastructure notably began to deteriorate, and what was once a multi-classroom school, Mataiho turned out to be just a one-classroom school by the 90s.
This decline happened under the watch of the SDA Mission but it made no effort to rescue Mataiho school.
Furthermore, community support dwindled to just the staffs, students and a handful of parents. Unlike in the past, nearly the whole island turned up with vigour to support the school in whatever activities and programmes planned.
About a decade ago, landowners approached the SDA Mission requesting that it renovated the school’s classrooms and build staff houses including a proposal to upgrade Mataiho to a community high.
Since then the SDA Mission has kept the landowners in limbo with false promises of addressing the school’s needs.
Seuika says, “All we ask for is that the Mission develops Mataiho school, like renovate the current classroom, build more classrooms, build staff houses, and even the possibility of upgrading the school to a have a secondary stream.
“We have never asked the Mission a single cent since the time of my father before school’s establishment to this day. Mataiho has been free for the Mission since day one.
“We only suggest that the Mission improve the school with no strings or conditions attached. Many SDA education directors and presidents have come and gone, but our calls have fallen on deaf ears.”
Last year, landowners decided to put their foot down and demand that the SDA Mission comes clear with its real intentions regarding Mataiho school.
A 21-day notice of closure was served to the Mission last year on April 27 by Mr Seuika to persuade the authority to the table for talks regarding the school.
However, the SDA Mission ignored this notice and Seuika despite this, allowed the school to complete last year’s classes.
This year, on April 2, Seuika closed the school and served the SDA Mission a 14-day notice on April 11.
This is the final call for the SDA Mission to come to the table to discuss the issues surrounding Mataiho. If the Mission repeats its usual practice of ignorance and false promises, then Seuika says he will permanently close the school down and call on the Mission to go and remove its building materials from Mataiho.
Thus, it is understood that the notice lapses on April 25, 2018, after which there will be no hope for negotiations.
Meanwhile, SDA education director Mr Billy Leta said Mataiho Primary School’s closure last week is because of land issue and has nothing to do with the SDA authority.
He alleges that two parties are laying claims to the Mataiho land and the SDA Church wants to remain neutral therefore has not done anything apart from running the primary school service.
However, Seuika outright refutes this claim by Leta.
“There has been no land dispute over Mataiho. Even in 1964 when my father offered the land for the Mission to build the school, there was not a single voice of objection from anyone in Bellona.
“How can the SDA Mission cook up false stories to dally from the issue? I am declaring this now that they are lying to everyone. It is either the SDA Mission is deliberately misleading public or Mr Leta has no inkling of the issue of Mataiho.”
Island Sun has managed to verify this by checking records in the local courts, which contain no account of any land case recorded against Mataiho land.
In an interview with three elders in the Ngongona and Matangi districts in Bellona, they agree that there has been no land dispute case on Mataiho land from time immemorial.
Meanwhile, Leta tells Island Sun that he has already emailed the permanent secretary of the ministry of education (MEHRD) making him aware of the situation. Leta adds that they will continue to update him regarding the issue.
Mataiho SDA primary school history
The Seventh Day Adventist Mission was allowed to build a school in Mataiho land by Seuika’s father as a token of goodwill token, free of charge and no conditions attached. For the men and women in those days, their commitment to the church and their faith was paramount in their lives.
The agreement was verbal and based on trust, respect and good faith, with the overall purpose of advancing the SDA denomination in Bellona and the province.
In 1964 the school was established, and was the first school in the province, which garnered students from other pocket ad hoc schools around Bellona and Rennell.
In the 1960s and 70s the school flourished and produced many who are Renbel’s elites. Mataiho had several classrooms and a staff house.
However, 1980s saw the beginning of what was to become a decline from which Mataiho would never recover, and one by one the classrooms began to disappear until the school was only left with one, which remains to this day. The staff house has also gone.
Despite its rich and powerful history, both in terms of education and spreading of the SDA faith in the province, the school has been left alone to fend for itself and diminish to its current dismal state.
After Mataiho, dozens of schools were set up, and while some did not survive, others have managed to continue to upgrade throughout the years to levels surpassing Mataiho SDA primary school.