You would think that sailing for 36hrs would get you in the middle of no-where… and it does, but then you take the zodiac and ride for another three hours and then you end up in a village far up an untravelled river, where people are lost and forgotten. They looked at us like they were seeing a ghost, like they had never seen white people, and many of them hadn’t… Most of them had never left their village, and many of them had never received medical care!
Most rivers with work in are uncharted, meaning that no one has measured the depths of those rivers, making it very difficult for large vessels to venture in them… Unless their captain is passionate and doesn’t mind taking the time to survey in small boats prior to going in with their large vessels. Our vessel is equipped with a state of the art surveying equipment that our captain uses to ensure that we’re not at risk of running our ship to ground!
Our captain is an amazing man. He has a passion to see the forgotten know that they are loved. Last year when in the Bamu River, he went in a small boat to survey rivers and find potential villages to outreach to. He found a very remote community three hours away from the safest anchor point and hasn’t stop thinking about them since. This year I had the privilege to lead a small Primary Health Care team into the Gama River, to that very remote community. It was a long hard day, but well worth it to pioneer in this region and be one of the firsts to concretely love on such remote people.
We left around 6am and only arrived to our targeted community around 10am! We got completely soaked within the first hour as we headed right towards the storm, but no one lost their good spirits, it was a perfect team, completely suited for the task, totally selfless, no one complained, I couldn’t have asked for a better team! We had to ask our way up the river from smaller communities as this larger one is somewhat of a nomadic community and they keep changing location, but we did find them :)
As part of our team, we had a New Zealander translator that has lived in the Bamu region for 20+ years, and he was MOST useful to establish contact with these villages as most of them knew no English or Pidgin (the National language, which I can speak along with some of our longterm staff). After the introductions, the leaders of the village called in all the ladies and the children. We were there strictly for them due to short supplies, we decided to focus on what would have the greatest impact in the long run: immunisations for children and Tetanus Toxoid as well as family planning for women. Being that far away from the ship we could only take one zodiac filled with seven people and very little gear as we also wanted to give mosquito nets. The rest of our team was made up of the captain and the first mate to operate the zodiac and the surveying equipment, a representative from the Director’s Office to continue establishing connections, a midwife (they’re always priceless, especially in PNG!!!), myself and a photographer to be able to tell the stories.
Within 10 minutes of being on site, a man came forward and asked if we could help with a lady in another village that had given birth two days ago and still hadn’t delivered the placenta. Was I ever SO GLAD that I had decided to bring a midwife with me!!! Our captain agreed to go with the man and our midwife to bring assistance to this lady. Turns out the village was quite a bit further than expected as they only came back 4 hrs later! But during that time, the midwife was able to deliver placenta remains in the dark with the “Torch App” from our photographer’s iPhone!!!
While, we operated full steam on immunisations, a village survey, a teaching on malaria and mosquito nets distribution.
Around noon, I got asked how many patients were left, and I counted 17. “Great, 90minutes and we should be all done.” An hour later, we still had 17 health books on the pile, and I never saw anyone put more in, so much I was busy!!! At 3pm we still had 17 left!!! The never ending 17 :) Our initial plan was to immunise in different villages along the river, but since children kept on coming, we decided to complete this one village. We finished everything around 5pm. We got in the zodiac and drove for 5 minutes… until out of sight and pulled out our lunches, ate and pulled on a shore to go use the bush… We had not stopped at all! It just didn’t feel right to slow down to eat while these children could potentially not get immunised if we did that. Our initial pull out time was 4pm, in order to make it back to the ship safely. But our captain extended some much appreciated grace so that we could finish seeing all the children. Our ride back was partly quite dark due to that extension as we started heading back to the ship at sunset.
Despite the fact that we got back on the ship at 8:30pm, that it was the longest day of clinic, and that we got completely soaked twice, I loved every bit of it as we were able to pioneer into some extremely remote places and bring some much needed medical care. The look on their faces as they sang to thank us is something I’ll never forget. I only hope I can return next year with a bigger team and reach even more people into this river.