Reopening the Betesda Sik Haus

It was very quiet the first night in Bunam. Every now and again I’d hear a low bird sound, but other than that no barking dogs, crying kids, or snoring roommates. All good.

The sun started to rise at about 6.15 and so I lay there in the shelter of my mosquito net until it was lighter and then made a dash for the toilet. One thing I hate, is going to the outside toilet on my own in the dark. In fact, I just won’t do it. We had had a discussion about this earlier in the night and I’d reiterated to Deb and Debbie, that if anyone needs a wee in the night, they must wake someone up to go with. Poor Deb. Later on in the morning she told me that she had tried to wake me but I just wouldn’t budge and so she had braved the night on her own “to see a man about a dog”. Poor woman. I felt terrible. I hadn’t heard a thing!!

I really wished I had my own little camping stove to boil water and make a cuppa. “Make a note of that for next time”, I thought. It was quite cool. In fact, in the night I had really felt chilly and pulled not only the double folded sheet over me, but my silk liner too. It was nice to feel cool.

I went through to the kitchen and looked at it with fresh eyes now. What a blessing to actually have a kitchen, with sink and bench tops at my height. No water came through the tap, and the sink was quite grotty, but I had brought my special hiking ‘kitchen sink’ which is a fold up bag that holds water in it to wash dishes etc. It’s been used to soak sore and blistered feet once on a particularly harrowing hike along the Bibbulman Track too! I’ll keep that one to myself, I chuckled.

I found a couple of chux cloths and relegated one to wiping the filthy bench tops and sink. In a short space of time the kitchen was taking shape and looking rather dandy. Amazing what a bit of elbow grease can do, for the physical look of a place, but also for the soul. It was good to be cleaning – little did I know then how much more cleaning I was going to have to do that day.

There was a call from the steps and Wendy, from next door, had a kettle of boiling water for us. Bliss. A hot, steaming cup of coffee. I took some coffee bags with me and used powdered milk. We ate weetbix for breakfast with some dried fruit scattered over the top. We were able to wash our dishes in my kitchen sink. It was just like at home…

We were not sure what was going to happen this morning. I had in my mnd what I wanted to do, but was fast learning to be flexible, wait and be guided by the local people. We sat down on the floor and prayed for the events of the day.

By 8.30 we were sitting in the church haus singing songs in pidgin. The church building is just a big thatched shelter with a few benches. Most people sat on the ground, on banana leaves and other natural fibres. We sat on the bench at the front. Men on the right, women on the left.

Again we were warmly welcomed and Mike gave a short devotion. Then there was much discussion about the program for the day. When we first arrived at the church there was just a handful of people, now when I turned around I saw quite a few extras and even recognised a few of the women from Yamen: Suzanne, Doreen, Priscilla, Scilla, Jane. I was getting excited and couldn’t wait to greet them properly. The men asked that the Health Centre be opened that morning and that we run a clinic as they had many sick children. So we agreed that we would have a look at the Health Centre, see what was in it and then run a clinic in the afternoon. They were happy with that. We had to wait for the man with the key to open it for us. So after devotions we sat and waited for the man with the key. Bob.

I got up and went towards Doreen who gave me a big warm hug and welcome. It was really lovely to see her. She introduced me to her husband Steven who spoke really great English. They are from Bunam, but live in a haus along the river – where we initially arrived. Then I saw Suzanne standing in the background and went towards her. I felt incredibly emotional to see her again. Suzanne is very quiet, but such a respected woman in her community. She has an unwavering faith and a real heart to help her people. She is from Angisi, the next village on from Bunam. There was now quite a crowd of women around us and so I got Deb and Debbie to introduce themselves to the group and to explain a little bit of what we were hoping to do during the week. I asked those who had been to the training in Yamen whether they had used their birthing kits and there was a resounding ‘yes’. They said the kits had really made a difference – enabled them to teach the women about clean birth and to sometimes assist. They did say that because of the kits they were more likely to be called to the birth earlier on in the labour than before.

Eventually, after what seemed to be a long time, there was some commotion near the health centre and we were told that Bob had the key and was going to open up.

But then Bob disappeared again. A guy named Matthew came and saw us. He said he would make sure the centre was opened. We really didn’t know what was going on and couldn’t understand the issues yet. It seemed though that there was resistance to having the Health Centre open. But the men were onto it and so there were many discussions until eventually Matthew came with a key and a hammer (which came to be known as the ‘key’).

A crowd had gathered at the front of the health centre. The double doors were screwed shut and I saw a blue sign leaning up against the wall: Betesda Sik Haus. I remembered that John Bolton had said it was funded by Bethesda Private Hospital here in Claremont, Perth. Connection. Amazing. What a small world. We had to go round to the side door where the grass was really long and the path not clearly defined. I kept thinking about what John had said about death adders, “Bunam is full of them, just stay to the path and avoid walking through long grass”. I was breaking a snake safety rule already!!

The door was pushed open and we walked into a surprisingly cool building, freshly painted in bright sky blue, but with equipment looking like it had been untouched for years. The first room was obviously the labour room, complete with old bed with stirrups, shower and toilet (a bit worse for wear), neonatal cot, tray with metal duck bill speculums and draws full of IV giving sets. Through to the next room, there was a very old trolley with a mattress obviously the original one from the 60’s when the Centre was opened. There were a whole lot of boxes on the floor filled with medicines: cloroquine for malaria, Iron tablets, paediatric antibiotics and paracetemol etc. And there was a solar powered fridge that was open – hence the reason the place felt so cool. It had been donated by the Japanese government and was for storing vaccinations, it said. On the shelf were bottles of IV fluids and a couple of pinnard stethoscopes.

The next room was rather large and there were a couple of dressing trolleys, a space where the CB radio had once been, a delux looking sphygmomanometer (blood pressure machine) still in its cardboard box, metal jars for cottonwool, needles, syringes, cardboard sharps containers, plastering equipment, a stethoscope which looked a bit rusty, thermometers and alcohol swabs. There was a sink with a tap which was not connected and even a couple of bags of disinfecting powder for cleaning.

It was amazing. Everything there. Just really dirty. The place needed a jolly good clean and I felt we needed to show them how to begin.


One thought on “Reopening the Betesda Sik Haus

  1. Deborah says:

    Sara , as soon as I know you have the next installment up – I sit Down to read it immediately. You have covered the trip so well up to now – thank you for sharing it with the world. A friend of mine looked up wewak after reading my email and found your blog and is now reading it !!

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