Although I cried on the first night in Wewak, by the next day I was feeling really positive and settled again. It was a good day wandering around Wewak, taking in the sights and sounds (and smells) of the supermarket, fresh markets and the stationary shop. I was calm and optimistic about our trip, relaxed and confident again. Arriving in Kambot though, seeing Brigit looking so unwell and distant and then facing this obviously angry man at the health centre just shook me to the core. At this moment I wished I wasn’t a tall, white woman with silver hair and could just blend in with the locals!
As my mind raced with answers to his confronting question, “What is your business here?” I looked across at Yabru for some inspiration. Yabru is an amazing man who has such a heart for his people, and is the reason we are working in this part of PNG. He has a lovely warm voice that resonates with grace and humility. I listened carefully as he told the man the reason we were there, in Pidgen English. Wise words. He explained that we were on our way to Bunam to give some health training to the Village Birth Attendants, returning to the region after visiting Yamen last year. We just thought it would be a good idea to visit Kambot and see what services they provided.
I tried hard to soften my face and smile kindly, smothering the look of disdain and anger that I felt deep within. In that moment I found it really hard not to feel really angry and just turn around and walk away. It’s such a tricky situation to find yourself in because despite working really hard to try and link in with people, not as ‘authority’ but just as wanting to support and help them with what they are already doing, not to intimidate them, but you end up intimidating them anyway just by your mere presence! What a fine line. I felt I was teetering on the verge of collapse, tipping over to allow myself to fall away from the line I knew I needed to walk if I was going to make connections and network with existing people and systems. Respect. Honour. Respect is earned, honour is a gift. “Ok, I choose to honour this man right now, even though he’s being incredibly rude to us, but he may be feeling we’re checking up on him and insecure. So, it is up to me to make him feel comfortable. I am the visitor. I am the alien.”
He relaxed a little and allowed us to look at the health centre. Debbie was great in offering him congratulations for such a neat and clean health centre. Us girls were taken on a tour of the labour and birth room, with the 2 nurses – men are not allowed in these places. It was a very simple room, had a bed with lithotomy attachments, gas and air cylinder, fantastic records of all the births. Apparently they have 3-5 births a month. Not a lot really when you consider all the surrounding villages and the numbers of women giving birth at home. The nurses said that most women who birth there are from Kambot which has a population of about 3000. Few travel from other villages for a supervised birth. One of the sad things I felt about the health centre, and Dr G at Wewak hospital had warned us about this, is that it was empty. Beds in wards, but with no one in them. And yet I knew, from previous experience, that there were lots of sick people out in the villages, but they’re not getting the health care they need because they don’t travel (or can’t afford to travel) the distance to the Health Centre. Dr G had said he’s been trying to encourage the health centres to use the beds as a ‘waiting room’ for women who travel from surrounding villages to give birth, but this has not been taken up. “Still so much to do,” I thought.
The men then took us to the training centre where there are living quarters for visiting health volunteers who come for training which was apparently scheduled for next month. It was all very nice, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was making a difference, because certainly our experience last year had been overwhelming and many health volunteers had told us they hadn’t had training for a very long time. I was now starting to feel confused about what was Living Child doing in this part of PNG to train health volunteers – had we got it all wrong – there’s a perfectly good system of training and support already in this region, so no need for the likes of Living Child. What is the truth about what’s happening in this part of the world?
I suppose this is a classic example of the importance of not only listening to what the authorities tell you and reading about the programs and systems already in place. You have to weigh that up against what you physically see happening in the villages. What is the evidence. This is why it has been so important for us to visit a second time, to such a remote part again. We needed to see for ourselves what was happening because the stories coming out of the ‘bush’ were of terrible suffering and pain related to the many deaths of mothers and babies because of a lack of health care and support.
I left Kambot feeling confused. A headache was developing and it was hot too. I was relieved to be on the boat again. Our visit to the health centre wasn’t as I expected.
KAMBOT Health Centre
The training centre complete with flushing toilets and showers
Debbie and I handing over gifts to the nurses.