Riding the Tide

In Coastal Papua New Guinea (PNG) many villages are only accessible by sea. Having a medical ship is a huge asset in reaching the isolated. Our ship has a draft of 3.4 m (that’s the depth of water needed to sail without hitting the river bed), meaning we can only sail in somewhat deeper rivers. When we desire to reach a community that lives in shallower rivers, we use our zodiacs (shallow inflatable motor boat). Wasua is a fairly big village up a tiny river. We love going to Wasua as we get to partner with and strengthen the local health centre and their workers. However, getting to Wasua isn’t as easy as jumping in the zodiac… Wasua is a higher altitude and a fair distance up river. Being coastal also means being at the mercy of tides. There is a 45min zodiac ride between Wasua and the closest anchor point. With tides, there is a 3 hour window where the water is deep enough for zodiacs to get to the village. In order to reach Wasua, we left the ship at 5am. We were expecting the tide to come back in around 4pm to compensate for the early start.. “Nogat!” (Not quite!)

The tide was very unpredictable, and behaved differently as it filled the river back up in the evening. The villagers being used to the flow of the river told their wives to cook and to host us for dinner when they realized that it would dark before the water level would be deep enough for our zodiacs to reach the village. My favourite time of the day: Kaikai!!! Eating with the mamas :) I sat beside Rose, she was a respected mama in the village and had coordinated much of the moumou (feast) for us. Rose and I talked a lot during dinner, I love practicing my Tok Pisin :) Towards the end of the dinner, Rose introduced her husband Jack. After talking with Jack for a little while, he confessed being able to “rausim teeth” (removing teeth)!!! My very next question was: “Can you come to our ship to help our dentist & learn new techniques tomorrow?” He was honoured and accepted to meet us at the ship the following day.

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Our day in Wasua was very long and quite challenging for many, but we met Jack and were able to up-skill him the following day. He did so well on the ship, that our team decided to invite him to join us in Daru 2 weeks later for further training. His story is found below, enjoy reading :)

Dental Worker Paddles for 30 Hours to Receive Dental Training

                                      Jack in the canoe he traveled in for almost 30 hours.

It was a precious moment when the YWAM Medical Ships – Australia’s (YWAM MSA) team reunited with local dental worker, Jack two weeks ago at Daru Island in the Western Province. Jack paddled almost 30 hours in his canoe from his village to meet the YWAM Medical Ship at Daru to receive further dental training alongside YWAM MSA’s volunteer dentists. 

Jack is one of four Community Health Workers in his village and the only one that is offering dental services for his village and the surrounding communities. Jack works from a simple plastic chair, his tools are very few, and his consumables are limited to what he can obtain from the local health centre; yet patients travel for many miles to receive Jack’s services. Jack shares about the oral health challenges in his community, “Many, many people have tooth pain. Often people stop eating or don’t sleep because there is too much pain. I do what I can, but I am very limited.” The YWAM team first met Jack during their fifth outreach for the year in the South Fly District where they set up mobile primary health care, optometry, and dentistry clinics in his village, Wasua. When the YWAM Medical Ship arrived in Jack’s village, Jack was eager to jump onboard and see the dental clinic in action. It had been over 20 years since he had even met another dental worker, let alone receive further training or work in a proper dental clinic.

Jack working onboard the Pacific Link.

Jack spent one day onboard the ship’s dental clinic where he observed restoration procedures and performed extractions. The team saw enormous potential in Jack and invited him to join the dental team on Daru Island where the ship would be in four weeks time. Jack arrived the day after the ship arrived in Daru; eager and willing to help with the hundreds of patients that were waiting to be seen while receiving in-service training from New Zealand dentist, Joo and Papua New Guinean Dentist, Vasity. “Jack is a rare find in rural PNG, and needs all the extra support, resources and training we can give him to serve the enormous need in his community,” share Vasity. At the end of Jack’s two weeks onboard the ship, YWAM MSA gave Jack an I-dent kit; a portable solar powered dental chair with basic tools and a drill that all folds into a backpack weighing just 15 kilograms.

 Jack with the I-dent chair that he will use to continue dental work in his community.

The I-dent kit will not only allow Jack to improve the services he is providing out of his local health centre, but will also enable him to provide dental services to surrounding communities when the health centre conducts immunisation patrols. “This chair will allow me to do better work and reach people with the care that they need. I am very happy to receive this gift,” shares Jack. The Oral Health Atlas states that oral health is a worldwide neglected health issue. Papua New Guinea has an extreme shortage of dentists with only 17 working dentists in PNG* currently. This equates to one dentist per 372,412 people. The majority of these dentists are in urban centres, leaving the rural majority with almost no access to dental care. YWAM MSA is helping to bridge this gap by training and empowering dental workers in rural areas of PNG with the resources and skills they need to deliver services in isolated, remote communities. Jack is the third dental worker in PNG to receive an I-dent kit this year.

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