I can’t begin to describe to you the challenges of providing maternal & newborn training in Papua New Guinea.
It’s hard. Really hard.
In fact, many times, I just want to turn away, return home and forget the whole crazy idea.
Over the next few weeks I’ll do my best to try and paint a picture for you of what the Living Child team has just completed over 2 weeks immersed in the lives and world of people living in remote villages of the East Sepik Province.
At the moment I think I’m feeling a bit stunned at what we did. Perhaps a bit traumatised at what we witnessed too. I haven’t ventured out of my home yet – not ready to face the world we live in here in Australia. So much stuff. Services. Superficiality.
When I was in the village of Yamen last week I turned to my team member and colleague, Karen, and said, “It’s not in my imagination how bad it is here is it?”
“No,” she answered softly. “It’s really bad.”
“I’m not going to gloss over the reality of the situation for women anymore and try to justify that it’s not that bad. I’m going to tell it how it really is,” I said sadly.
How do you find the words to really tell it as it is? The photos tell a story, but even they look lovely and don’t capture the dirt and grime, heat and humidity, cries of desperation that are around all the time. Soon after we said good bye to a mother taking her dead 22 year old daughter (she died from unknown causes) down the river to her village for burial, our host and leader in the community of Yamen said, “Sara, it is good you have experienced the death of this young woman. You will now appreciate what we face all day every day due to a lack of services. I believe this will help to tell our story.”
No health services for over 20 years. 76 health Aid Posts in the District, but 69 are closed. Women having no choice but to give birth at home in their village or if they make it to the District Hospital, allocated the disused laundry with a piece of cardboard covering the crumbling concrete floor as a ‘sheet’. Staff who have had no training or supervision in over 20 years, too afraid to look after pregnant women because so many of them die. No proper record of births or deaths. Few, if any, babies immunised. Leprosy. Measles and mumps sweeping through villages and killing babies and young children. A high rate of young teenagers getting pregnant.
There is a ray of sunshine and hope and that comes in the form of Living Child. At a community workshop we held on the first day in Yamen, representatives from different villages told us that in the 5 years since Living Child has been in the area, they are noticing that their mothers are happier and enjoying life because they have a contraceptive implant, rather than a toddler at their feet, a baby on their hip and another on the way. A number of villages reported no maternal deaths in the last 5 years since village birth attendants have been trained. Wow!
I have to say, I took a double take when I heard that. No maternal deaths in the village since Living Child has been giving training. Suddenly I was inspired to go on. Despite the overwhelming needs and problems, despite the slow pace at which we’ve been able to do anything, despite the challenges and frustrations, there had been no maternal deaths in Yamen since 2013. That gave me enough of a jolt to keep doing what we could, no matter how slow! It is making a difference.
So, we rolled up our sleeves, mopped our brows and got to work…