Listen, Learn, Look and Love

The village we will be visiting is called Bunam. It is in the East Sepik Province of PNG. This province is quite large approximately 42,800 km square in size. The Capital is Wewak which is where we’ll be flying in to. The population is estimated at 343 180 people (2000 census). I’ve been reading that the average life expectancy age is 51.3yrs for men and 53.1 yrs for women in this province. The people grow and sell coconut, food crops, betel nut, fish and cocoa. The province is dominated by the Sepik River, one of the largest rivers in the world with a huge tidal difference of up to 5m at times.

Bunam is very remote. We’ll fly from Perth to Cairns, then on to Port Moresby, then Wewak via Madang. From Wewak we take a road trip for 2.5hrs to Angorum and then a boat ride for 5hrs along the Sepik and then turning left up the Keram River. Bunam is situated somewhere along the Keram. When researching some information about Bunam ‘poor and remote’ comes up a lot. It is in the southern part of the District of Angorum. This district has a population of about 68 796; ›31 589 are aged under 15yrs, ›35 546 are 15 – 64yrs and only ›1661 are over 65 yrs of age. So there are lots of children. But sadly child mortality rates in this part of PNG are high: 

›Under 5yrs  115:1000
›Infant < 1yr    79:1000 compared to Australia which is ›4.61:1000
›Child 1-4yr    36:1000
The Newborn death rate is 29:1000 compared to 9:1000 in Australia (and Australian statistics include all babies born after 20 weeks gestation).
Now wait for the Maternal Mortality Rate…I read these stats on the Burnet Institute website where they had trialled a Hepatitis B vaccine for the women and babies in the East Sepik Province in 2008 – 2010. The Mortality Rate in 2006, they report was 733:100 000! These deaths were related to preventable problems: postpartum hemorrhage, puerperal sepsis and 

›obstructed labour. In Australia our ›Indigenous women death rate during prepnancy and the first year of giving birth is 22:100 000 and the ›Non-Indigenous rate is 8 per 100 000. Causes of death in Australia are related to ›Cardiac disease, psychiatric disorders and hemorrhage – all very rare.

›These numbers are so sad. And that’s just the numbers. What about the people who are the numbers. The women who have died giving birth and left husband’s widowed, children motherless and a family without an important carer. The death of a baby or child leaves a family grieving. The reasons for these deaths are things that here in Australia we’d have no trouble treating – usually with simple antibiotics, immunisations, good food and clean water…

Who are ‘we’? The team is a small one. To do specific things. Three in total. Mike is the team leader. He’s a Church of Christ Pastor and leadership consultant who will provide leadership training to the local pastors from the region. Simon is a vocalist and music teacher and he will be providing some musical teaching and support (something which the local churches have asked for) and then me, the midwife. You can see why I’ll be going there. When I look at the numbers I feel overwhelmed at the task ahead. In the Angorum District alone, where Bunam is located, there are only ›2 Doctors (›1 per 34 398), ›21 Nurses (›1 per 3276), ›8 Health centres (›1 per 8600 population) and ›20 Aid posts (›1 per 3440). Where will I start? Well I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I need a place to start. I think I’ll begin with listening to the women and answer their questions; hear what they do and how they do it. I want to learn about their ways. I’ll look and see what the potential is – what could I do in the future. And I really want to love the women and share what I know with them at their leading. Mike said to me, “Sara, whatever you have to give them will be something and will build on what little they have”. Listen, Learn, Look and Love.


2 thoughts on “Listen, Learn, Look and Love

  1. I think that it is a wonderful thing that you are doing Sara. Those statistics are daunting! I hope that our MOPS group will be doing lots to help and I look forward to reading about your journey.

    • Thanks Mon! Yes our MOPS group is going to be helping as well as Rivervale MOPS. I’m going to give a short talk about my trip in early Term 3 and then you guys are going to put together some Birthing Kits for me to take on my trip. So you will have a hand in helping those women too.

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