Vivien and I

Last week I was woken up at 4.30 in the morning by the phone ringing. It was Vivien. In a desperate voice she told me quickly that the flood was really bad, up to the roof of her haus (and the houses are built on stilts!) and please can I call her back because her credit is out. I felt bewildered. When I tried to call her back the number was incorrect. I felt I was letting her down. It was like I was her lifeline to the outside world, she was asking for help, and I couldn’t do a thing. Except pray.

I did contact a friend and ask him what I should do and whether the floods could be verified. I confess I was thinking that perhaps she was calling me to get sympathy and help into Australia. Terrible scepticism, but you do hear stories of people doing that – taking advantage of your support and care. Rather quickly my friend sent through a link to the Oxfam website http://www.oxfam.org.nz/blogs/2013/05/06/floods-png which certainly verified the situation. The photos show exactly the place where Viviein’s village of Kumbarumba is located. I also came across an ABC radio interview with an Oxfam representative and what he described is just as the area is – no support, no infrastructure, little governance etc. It’s worth a listen if you want to understand a bit more about the area Living Child is working in.
http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/pacific-beat/sepik-flood-in-png-a-slow-burn-disaster-oxfam/1126918

All day I felt really ‘heavy’ with emotion as I struggled with feeling hopeless and so far away from giving help. I went through the facts in my head: bad flood, Oxfam there and helping, Australian Defence Force going to Wewak next month as part of Pacific Partnership Program, already planned months in advance. This is a joint venture between Australian and American forces to provide humanitarian support and assistance. They take engineers, doctors, health people etc to assist the communities in whatever way they can, highlighting issues and introducing Non Government Organisations (NGO) to each other and significant stake holders. By the end of the day I was starting to feel a bit better as I realised that it seems as if God already knew what was going to happen and had planned for all the humanitarian help to be going in at the right time!

Anyway, I had a call from Vivien again last night. This time I managed to track her number and return her call (Cost a fortune!! But worth talking with her). Flood waters subsiding since Sunday. They’re ok, but a baby  drowned in floodwaters because women didn’t know how to do CPR. I encouraged her to teach the other women how to do it so that they can help themselves even when she’s not around.

She delivered a baby on Sunday. Mother alive, baby died. Baby had terrible deformities: one eye and no nose. I think she just wanted some reassurance that she had done everything she could and wanted some support which I gave her, telling her that there was nothing more she could have done for this baby and to just make sure the mother stays well. We talked about whether the placenta had been delivered ‘whole’ and she told me everything had gone well. She had used a birthing kit again.

She asked for some canvas to catch rainwater for drinking. I told her to use the plastic from the birthing kits to catch water for drinking and told her to teach the villagers not to drink the river water as they’ll get sick after the floods. She’s going to do that. I’ll post her some extra kits in the meantime.

I really feel I want to do all I can to get there in July. I can squeeze a trip in while kids on school holidays and they can stay with my Mum while my husband, Richard, is in QLd for work. I feel it’s important to encourage these women and reassure them, as well as reiterate what we taught last year and assist them with questions or problems that have arisen since our last visit.

Vivien says the flood waters will be down in a month’s time.

She also told me she’s pregnant again and the baby is due in 3 months. She’s hoping I’ll be there for the birth!! And if it’s a girl, she’ll name her Sara.

As we said our goodbyes, she said rather wistfully, “It was so good to talk to you Sara”. As I reflected on our conversation I felt that I was really growing to love Vivien and see her as a special friend.

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The unknown

My blog has been quiet for a while, but I certainly haven’t been quiet. I can’t believe it’s May already. I’m meant to be planning a trip to PNG for early July, that’s literally only 8 weeks away! Yikes.

It’s been a tough few weeks, but in there too have been the most amazing things happen. There has been joy in amongst the angst, frustration and struggling.

The first bit of amazing news is to say that Debbie Butters, a midwife from Queensland, but now based in Geraldton, is going to join me on this next trip to PNG. I am so thankful for her company and expertise. There are many who have said they’d be interested, but to actually say ‘yes’ to this sort of adventure does take courage and an ability to embrace the discomforts. Debbie has a real heart for PNG, she spent a couple of weeks in the Gulf with the YWAM Medical ship, providing midwifery care and education to women in the villages. So she understands a little bit of what it’s like out there. We will be travelling a bit more remote than what she has experienced, but is keen to use her midwifery skills in whatever way is needed. From the moment I first spoke with Debbie and then finally met her in person I have felt excited to work with her.

The second bit of great news is that Living Child Inc. has been granted charity status by the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission. This is reassuring and helps us to get income tax exemption. The process of getting Deductible Gift Recipient DGR status (where donations to Living Child are tax deductible for the donor) is a little more involved and will take time (and money). I’ve had some advice from an accounting expert and he suggests it’s better to wait until at least a year before applying for DGR status as we need to prove where our work and finances are being carried out.

The other bit of good news is that our website www.livingchildinc.com has been successfully launched and we have had very good feedback from people about its ease of use and the information it contains. I’d like to thank my dear friend Deb Badger for all her hard work in setting this site up and she will continue to be the website manager which is a great help. Please can I encourage you to fill out a “Friends of Living Child” form, that way we can keep you informed as to what we are up to.

The facebook page is a huge hit and a great way of communicating to a large audience. We have nearly 90 likes so hopefully we’ll hit the 100 mark soon. One of the things I have noticed is that there are so many organisations raising money and doing good work out in developing countries. I really want to make sure we don’t become ‘just another NGO’ which creates donor fatigue. At the end of the day, Living Child exists because I wanted to be a legitimate, accountable entity that is doing voluntary work in PNG. I wanted to be open and transparent about how money is used so that people know they can trust us to spend it wisely. Actually, a small amount of money can go a very long way. On that note I want to reassure people that any donations will go directly to purchasing resources, making birthing kits and posting kits to the Village Birth Attendants in remote villages in East Sepik and Madang Provinces. As other needs arise, we will advertise those and put requests out.

I am gearing up to start fundraising for airfares and transport costs for the trip in July, so keep your eyes open for those opportunities to support us.

On a difficult note, my husband will be working a Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) job for 6 months beginning very soon. This has been a real spanner in the works for me who likes to control things and have neat boxes of tasks set out before me. It has meant that finalising a date for our trip in July has been put on hold until I hear from Richard exactly what his roster will be. To be honest, I have spat the dummy and cried “Woe is me” a few times as I try and get my head around ‘waiting’, while the days tick by and July looms closer. Today I’m trying to practise letting go of the need for control and just rest in the moment, trusting that God is sovereign and all will fall into place at the right time. Easier to say than to actually do! Richard reminded me last night that I need to maintain perspective, keep on track planning and preparing for the trip. As soon as the dates are finalised we’ll be able to book flights and go knowing that we are prepared and ready to go.

When I think too much about the trip I get a bit fearful – the distances, the heat and humidity, being sick on return last time! When I look at the photos of last time I remember names and people, their stories and the sense of hopelessness they had because ‘many, many’ women and babies were dying in their villages – that’s what motivates me and causes me to lift my eyes above my own state of comfort and step out in faith.