Living with the communities of Papua New Guinea.
Day 5 to 7 notes from the field.
In the last 3 days, I did many things for the first time. They ranged from drawing out vaccinations for hundreds of children, registering dozens of tuberculosis patients for medical check-ups to full zipping on a zodiac through crocodile infested rivers, flying on a small helicopter at tree-top height over jungles and taking off on a single-engine plane from a small airstrip in the bush.
The word “Papua New Guinea” elicits a land far away, only accessed by anthropologists, naturalists and adventurers.
I grew up reading about them in National Geographic — the stories of its early explorers, active volcanoes, colourful birds of paradise and warring tribes would fill my imagination. So to actually live within the communities has been fascinating and to support them in their development an absolute privilege.
Its day 4 and we anchored the ship off the village Kapuna, where since the 1940s three generations of the Colvert family from New Zealand have been running the only hospital serving thousands of people living in the surrounding communities. The YWAM ship helped re-stocked many of the vital medical supplies at Kapuna Hospital and setup a solar-powered refrigerator to store vaccines.
Using YWAM’s M/V Pacific Link as the mother ship, over the next couple of days we used small boats and zodiacs to set-up make-shift medical camps at various villages along the river around Kapuna. First stop was the sea-side village of Kinipo. After all the mud that we had been through, walking on its sandy walkways between its beach to the medical hut was refreshing.
Robin, the local community health worker manning the Kinipo’s aid post had created a list of all the patients, their medical histories and ailments the day before we arrived. That made the whole day very efficient and it was yet another example of how YWAM is empowering the local community to take initiative to look after its people instead of completely relying on external aid.
Just as the sun began to set, we wrapped-up at Kinipo and zipped on our zodiacs to the next village Akoma, where the next morning we started the same vaccination-checkup procedures. After yet a long day of work helping the medical team at the village, nothing beats a freshly cut coconut by a grateful community elder. He also arranged for us to rest for the night in his brand new wooden house, a very special offering and mark of respect in the local culture.
In my research in preparation for this project, I had noticed that violence and gender bias against women is high in several parts of PNG. So one of the other promising signs here was to see the spirit of community — especially men and women working together. Many of the community health workers here are women, taking an active role in the health and well-being of the community. Although we couldn’t find any women village leaders yet, the future looks hopeful and encouraging for women in these communities.
“Mothers take care of the community. They bring the community together. It is very important to educate women and create gender equality so girls too can pursue their dreams.” — Amos Aua, elementary school teacher at Korovakae village.
The last one week has opened me up to the incredible warmth, generosity, culture and spirit of community in the villages of Papua New Guinea. As I head back to Port Moresby, Jacqui and Mat are filming the YWAM ship from a helicopter with doors wide open! So the adventure isn’t over just yet.
Story by Ashwin Subramaniam — Co-founder and Project Director, Gone Adventurin’
Photo Credit — Mathew Lynn