Two years ago I was part of a small health care team deployed into the Gama River (one of the most remote rivers of Western Province)! I remember that day like it was yesterday! Most people we met looked at us with wide eyes, in disbelief and amazement, I reckon most of them had never seen anyone so white in their lives! The day was long and busy, most children had never been immunised and barely anyone knew English! We worked through lunch because we simply didn’t have enough food to share and it felt wrong to eat in front of them. We pulled out as late as we could to have sufficient amount of time to return to the ship.
That night we zoomed by a village on our way back. Being quite late and dark out we had to leave it for another time. But as we zoomed by, we could see light… probably fire, and the thought of being so close yet too far was killing us. It took me two years to finally make it back to the area and reach Ibuo Village…
Ibuo isn’t exactly what we call a remote village. A remote village we can usually access by the ship as we sail up river… We can use small boats and get in and out of the villages at any time. A very remote village is one that is also dependent on tide. Meaning we have to organise our trips in and out with the high tides and often get stranded in the village in-between said tides. Those villages usually require a much longer ride in the small boat as our ship can’t anchor this close to them. Ibuo is what a call an extremely remote village.
Ibuo is on the map in two different locations but the actually village in either of those locations! It actually isn’t charted. Three days out of four, the weather isn’t conducive to to reaching Ibuo. Unlike other villages in the area, Ibuo doesn’t have any protection from the land, it isn’t located in a river but rather out facing the ocean and in-between the mouth of two rivers! The currents there are wild and the tides horrible! Low tide lasts eight hours making it impossible to enter or leave the village! One of our contact lived in the Bamu River (adjacent to the Gama) and had tried to reach Ibuo for the last 20 years without success! No local boatsmen would take him there due to the unpredictable and dangerous seas.
When Captain Jeremy announced that the weather was good enough and that he was happy to send me if I had conviction that it was right, my heart skipped a beat! Of course I’d love to take my students to Ibuo!!! I meant taking a satelite phone, extra food and water, possibly returning very late, most likely not reaching the village, who knows they could have moved too! But most of all it meant having another shot at reaching the unreached!
As we pulled up towards the village, I tried to remember all the Motu I had learned, as far as I remembered, the people in Gama knew no Tok Pisin and these guys were even more remote!!! For some odd reason, I was the only one that had been anywhere close, and we had no Papua New Guineans with us… so I had to introduce us… I managed to say my name, where I was from and that we were with YWAM Medical Ship. That was all I could tell them in Motu. I had nothing else! And lo and behold, the chairman responded to me in Tok Pisin!!! Phewww!!! I don’t know what I would have done! They agreed for us to stay the day and were pleased to help us to set up clinic.
We walked up to a humble building with half a floor, which usually gets used as a classroom. We set up while the leader informed the community of our coming. Unfortunately, most of the village had gone out to collect Sago for two weeks. Those who were around welcomed us. After our introduction, the village chairman expressed his gratitude for our care, for our effort in coming to visit them. He told us that “No one has ever been here! No white man or PNG health team. We’re just too remote, nobody comes”
Despite the small number of people we were able to help, it was worth it! We’ve established connection, build friendship and instilled hope. We immunised their babies, cared for sores and prayed for the sick, but most importantly, we showed them that they weren’t forgotten.