The countdown begins! 2 weeks and 1 day until I leave for the remote village of Bunam in East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea. Excitement is building. Today Deb (my friend and volunteer ambo who is coming on this trip) stopped by and we packed up 3 cases which are our “Excess Baggage” bags. 320 birthing kits, 4 complete First Aid kits courtesy of St John Ambulance, 2 sets of Visual Teaching resources, 4 stethoscopes, some balls and hand pumps for the kids and more birth kits! Wow! All these things are going to help save lives and equip the health volunteers and Village Birth Attendants in ways beyond our imagination. A big part of taking these things with us is a show of love and care for these people, in such remote places with very little in the way of basic health care.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us to get to this place. Without your words of encouragement, practical and financial support we would not be where we are right now, all packed up and ready to go. One of our team, midwife Debbie Butters has already begun her journey, travelling to Brisbane last weekend. She has some baby clothes, another set of teaching resources and wooden pinnards are stuffed into her bag. Mike, Deb and I will meet her in Brisbane on July 12th.
The Fundraising morning tea was a resounding success with $1800 raised and then I held a sausage sizzle after church last week and we raised another $1850 which was just wonderful! Other donations that have come through have meant that we have been able to provide the $4000 requested by Melanesian Evangelical Church of Christ MECOC for transport, fuel and food costs of getting all the volunteers from their villages to Bunam where the health training will take place. Fuel is regarded as liquid gold and I remember seeing a sign along the Keram river that said that fuel was 30 Kina (about $15) a litre!!
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting John and Joyce Bolton, missionaries who lived in Bunam for many years, in fact they helped the locals establish the village after it was decided to unite 2 villages that had been at war with each other for generations. It was through their conversion to Christianity that the people wanted to now live in unity so they built the village of Bunam. John designed and assisted with the clearing of a site as an airstrip and they built a health centre with the funds from Bethesda Hospital in Claremont, Perth (isn’t that amazing! They even called it Bethesda Helt Centre) and some workmen volunteers from Perth. I find that connection really amazing – it seems the relationship between Bunam and Perth was begun many years ago and after a period of ‘rest’ it is now time to re-establish those connections! Unfortunately now the airstrip is overgrown, but John said it was a highly valued strip because it did not become waterlogged. Many planes used to land in Bunam when the weather was very wet because they knew the airstrip was well drained and safer than others. On this trip we are going to look to see what we can do to help the locals get the airstrip open again, a radio functioning there too. This will improve their connection to the outside world for health and education needs. Joyce said in the years they were in Bunam, the MAF Mission Aviation Fellowship planes were their lifeline.
They showed me photos of the village – it is a 15 minute walk from the Keram river, up a steep incline. There are views of the Eastern Highlands which look quite rugged. Apparently there are lots of death adders (Yikes) and crocodiles!! I guess we won’t be having afternoon waswas in the river like we did in the village of Yamen! This has concerned me a little; how am I going to have a wash? I really enjoyed my swim in the river at the end of a hot, sticky day of teaching. We may have to settle for a drink bottle wash like we have on the Bibbulman Track when hiking. A squirt here and there and all is good…
Another wonderful thing was John and Joyce showed me photos of the people they knew well – one of them was a young Yabru, the CEO of MECOC who was our ‘guide’ last year and will be joining us again next month. It was reassuring to hear from the Boltons about the relationships they had with the people and know that they were formed many years ago and have been built on trust and respect. I felt a deeper sense about the people of the East Sepik Province and that they were worthy of our trust.
They shared information about local customs for burial – apparently in this part of PNG they lay the person out in a canoe and then bury everything under the ground after they have a big feast. If you want to teach someone something you tell one person who then passes on the message to the person you intended the lesson for – I found this fascinating because it explained my experience last time especially with regard to evacuating a sick baby from the village. I remember that I didn’t speak directly to the mother, Lucy, but to her friend Gina, who in turn sent a message to the husband who came to us to get some information. It was all done in a roundabout way, but the message got through and was acted upon which I found intriguing. So now I know it’s a cultural thing. Also talking to the men via Mike, our pastor travel companion, is the best way to do it because that respects their culture too.
Joyce shared some stories of delivering babies of local women even though she wasn’t a trained nurse or midwife! She said she must have helped over 30 babies come into the world. The women would walk from other villages to get help. Many needed help to fly out so they used the radio to call a MAF plane. She said there was one time a women arrived in Bunam in a terrible state. The baby was breech and on it’s way, but stuck. She had apparently been in labour for a whole day and a half. The weather was terrible so the MAF plane could not come until the morning. She said there was literally nothing more they could do with her, so they put her to bed and got the whole village praying. She said, overnight, miraculously, the baby turned head down and was born alive and healthy!! Amazing story. Another time she said a woman arrived at her haus, squatted and gave birth to a live baby, but the uterus came out as well! She said she had no idea what to do, prayed for some guidance and felt she needed to just push it back inside the woman which she did. She then thought some antibiotics would be in order so started the mother on these while calling for the MAF plane to take her to Wewak Hospital. Apparently the woman recovered well and went on to have other children.
I came away from spending 3 hours with the Boltons feeling elated. It was such a joy to hear their stories, to learn more about the culture, to know people who had not only been to but lived in the same area where I have been and am returning to. Another thing that really struck me is that I really believe that the work Living Child is involved in now is a continuation of work that God started there many years ago. It’s too much of a coincidence to have people very well connected to Bunam and Perth! What are the odds of that happening?? I just feel that God has a plan… It’s exciting to be part of that plan.