Oh That Time We Collected $2M!!!

MP. Hon Julie Bishop - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

MP. Hon Julie Bishop – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

You never quite know what the day holds!

Most days I’m happy if I’ve managed to squeeze in a workout, reading, and cooking! I tend to like routine. But I also love for a surprise!

This is Friday morning, we are leaving for Papua New Guinea in less than 24hrs, and we still have a fair bit to do! It’s not the kind of that that I face full of confidence and enthusiasm… It’s the kind of day I take a minute at a time with big deep breath.

I have been on campus for barely 30 minutes when I get asked for a “favour”. I love to give a hand, but “C’Mon we’re leaving! I’m trying to get 7 students out the door and into PNG…” But I love friend and know that she wouldn’t asked if she didn’t think it’d be important!

“Ange, our grant from the department of foreign and trade has been approved and Julie Bishop is in town for the presentation today and we think it’d be great if IPHC could be present to receive the cheque ($2M) as you guys represent us well and are just about to head to PNG!”

Goes without saying, I agreed!!!

Making the news, and collecting $2M for the ship!

Making the news, and collecting $2M for the ship!


Finally Reaching Ibuo

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.

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The Day That NEVER Happened..!

I would consider myself a very risky person. I like to live on the edge and do crazy things. Skydive, rock climb… you know me!

BUT when I lead people I instantly turn into a safety conscious, mother hen, hyper protective person. I will not allow anyone to take any unnecessary risks because I don’t want to be the one making the phone call home to parents explaining what went wrong!

We are well covered, sometimes overcautiously covered with our risk procedures… We have necessary precautions such as taking anti-malarials in malaria endemic regions, but not all are that essential… some of the most ridiculous rules include showering daily, yes, we need a rule for that. Apparently not everybody believes in daily showers…

But there’s also a good list of needed rules that many people dislike… like having to wear a life jacket at all times when travelling on water. No dugout travels under any circumstances. Dugout canoes are pretty much a dug out tree trunk, highly unstable and requiring the help of a highly experienced operator to avoid capsizing… No walking in water in potential crocodile habitat. And the list goes on. . . .

Now there comes a time where a good leader has to make the hard decision and sometimes breach rules. One of those days might have happened on outreach. We refer to it as the “Day that NEVER happened”!

We were in an extremely remote village of Western Province, it had taken us 2 hours to get there from the ship and our dinghy operator told us he’d come back for 4pm.

We had radio communications back to the dinghy for about 30 minutes then it was out of reach. Sure we had a satellite phone, but that could only reach the ship.

We were done with clinic at 1pm! We connected with the village and walked around, played games, learnt from the mamas… we were ready to go. 4pm came around and no trace of our dinghy!

I tried the radio… nothing. I had someone climb on top of a house to hang our antena higher… oops! No climbing! We received a signal! Our driver was stuck in a mud bank! It was low tide. 

He unstuck himself and finally arrived to our village. Except he didn’t quite get to our village! He was about 1km away from the village, stuck in mud, it’s low tide! A bit of discussion back and forth brought us to the conclusion that the tide wouldn’t be high enough to get the dinghy into the village until 10pm! Time at which the sea would be quite rough!

So I used the little amount of language I had in common with the villagers to inquire about a way to get to the dinghy. They never replied to me… but the men started moving and talking to one another… and soon enough they were tying together 2 dugouts with pieces of wood/bark as seats and bush material weaved ropes.. oops! We had heaps of gear, (medical backpacks, radio, eski…) 9 people, which might have made the dugouts overloaded and sink in quite low… oh and oops! No life jackets! But what choice did we have!? We can’t camp out, we can’t wait for the tide and we can’t do nothing!

We got helped down the slippery log and into the dugouts, they loaded all our gear and two men paddled us out of the creek and towards our dinghy. We kept direction according to the locals in the deeper part of the channel, but unfortunately, even the deepest part was too shallow. Our friends jumped out of the dinghy into the crocodile infested water to pull us through the clay-like mud towards our dinghy. They pulled hard and fast. But we didn’t quite make it. by the time we got to our dinghy, and put our still dry gear safely onboard, our dinghy was well stuck in mud! So here comes the call I would have never made… our dinghy operator called “everybody in, let’s pull this dinghy into deep water!” as a marine professional he gets to call the shots, I call them in the clinic.

I prayed really hard that the crocodiles would stay very far away and that we’d be able to pull our dinghy out into the deep, get onboard and safely return to ship before the night falls and the water gets rough!

This is the day that we know as the day that never happened!   

Deja Vu!

Oh how good is it to visit new places, learn new languages, see new sceneries!?

But the absolute best thing is returning to the same locations year after year… getting to reconnect with friends but really by now they have become family! This year I got to reconnect with friends in Port Moresby, Western Province, Gulf Province, Milne Bay, and Oro Province!

I have seen soo many people I knew it’s unreal! It’s like the coconut wireless warns people and they just flock towards us! So it’d take forever to tell you of all those encounters, so I’ll only tell of two!

My first deja vu was in Sinapa :)
It’s a small village I’ve dropped in on the way to Airara during our pioneering trip in 2013!
We did clinic all day, and when I was about done with clinic, I remembered that I had seen Luisa in Airara.

Now the story of how I first met Luisa is typical PNG!!! The story starts in the Highland of Oro Province, Kokoda to be precise. I meet this lovely women called Julie. Julie was the first person I met with a Face tattoo! And when I say face tattoo… I mean full blown face tattoo! The Oro people especially Miacin people (around Tufi area) are renowned in PNG for their tattoos. Julie and I had great chats and one day she heard that after leaving the mountains, we’d be heading down the coast towards Tufi. She then told me to keep an eye out for her sister Luisa in a village called Airara!

I then thought… Right! How in the world am I supposed to find that village (not on the map) and find this lady whom I have never seen, and have no picture of!!!??? But eh! I told Julie I’d keep an eye out! To my greatest surprise I ended up in Airara and I found Luisa in 2013.

So being nearly done with clinic, I thought I’d give it shot and try to inquire about Julie’s sister… except, my memory failed me that day and I forgot Luisa’s name…
So I ventured out of the Aid Post and asked the local mamas if by any chance they had seen Julie from Airara! (An entirely different village from where we are, not a chance!) Then a lady in the crowd says… “Well Julie has left a long time ago, but her sister Luisa is here!” Then Luisa who had been sitting on the side of the Aid Post for God only knows how long stood up and came to see me!

“Oh Angie! It’s so good to see you! I heard that white people from a ship were here so I had to travel and come to see just in case I could find you!”
IMG_3307 Notice how we haven’t changed at all in 2 years!!!

The other one is one of my absolute favourites… I’m biased of course, but she has my name, so I can be ;)

I got to see my little baby Ange once again in Oro Bay, her parents heard that the ship was coming to the port and they came to see me every single day! Baby Angie is now 2 years old, cheeky as ever and loves to give me bananas :)

IMG_3338Baby Ange and her mum Leoni

Uiaku: A Story of Hope

Some days I walk in complete boldness, confident that I make a difference in the world…

But often times I wonder! Is it all worth it… Are things really changing? Do we make a lasting difference? We’ve been going to the same locations for up to 5 years in some areas… Will we ever work ourselves out of a job!? Maybe, maybe not. At times it sure feels like it’s only a drop in the ocean.

Then days like that days make it all worth it!

We arrived in Uiaku, knowing that an official welcome would be held and that clinics would happen in the afternoon. I was excited at the thought of returning to a location I had visited two years earlier in 2013! But I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen!

I recognized the layout of the land, the creek where we used to wash and the sketchy bridge we used to cross! The school… wait a minute! The school was twice bigger and in much better condition, it was no longer made out of bush material! There was now a new church building in the hub of the village, and to my greatest excitement, a new Aid Post! With running water and solar panels!

When we first came, the aid post was old and crumbling! Esmie, the health worker, had condemned half of the building because patients kept falling through the floor. She had no running water, no electricity and a bare minimum of supplies!

On our initial trip to Oro Province, there were countless Village Assessments! Some days we’d visit up to four villages and barely connect with the village beyond our set of questions. Uiaku was slightly different as we stayed there for a couple days and used the location as a launching pad to reach further isolated villages. We stayed with Esmie and her family and got to learn the challenges she faces and the health conditions of her people.

When we first visited the Miacin people (Uiaku region) we didn’t offer health clinic and to me it felt a lot like a promise with no timeline. We talked about what we could do if we ever came, without saying when we would return. Telling them we were scouting the land finding their needs for YWAM and for their government. I liked saying that we also passed the result of our assessment on to their government! Unconsciously and never spoken out loud, it reassured me that we weren’t expected to bring answers and solutions to all their needs. It relieved some of the responsibility I felt when they confided and shared about their village.

When leaving the province the first time, we compiled our report and gave it to the provincial health authority. And I like to childishly believe that when it’s out of my hands it’s taken care of.

During the welcome, the Second Chairman for Health in the province announced the purchase of a health dinghy for patrols and to assist the Aid Post to transport patients to the health centre! He also announced that the Aid Post would receive a cold chain (solar fridge for immunisations)! He proceeded to say thank you to the YWAM pioneering team of 2013, mentioning me (the only returning member) and how all of the improvements for the Aid Post (new building, dinghy, and cold chain) were made possible through the result of the assessment of the village we had turned in to their office!

That day all doubts about purpose and wether or not we are really making a difference vanished! I knew beyond shadow of a doubt that not only we had made a difference in the village, but also on the provincial health office and we would continue to have an impact through the local health worker and the extended services she’ll be able to provide because we were led into her village!

As part of the welcome, they also gave us war clubs to say that we will be fighting side by side towards eradicating target diseases and enhancing the health of their people!

I continue to be amazed at the trust that we’re extended, but also realize the weight of the responsibility associated with the trust we’re extended.

My grateful heart can’t help but wonder how it got involved in this amazing privilege, but also ache at the thought of all the injustices that still remain.

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Overcoming the Impossible

You might remember my newsletter from August 2014…, and me mentioning something about having a film crew onboard our Medical Ship earlier this year… You might think that’s awesome! Well yes in some respect, it was pretty awesome, but when you first get out of bed after 24hrs of motion sickness… the first thing you want to see ISN’T a camera :) To get everything you say or do filmed is also quite daunting… But after a few days, chatting with Jacqui (filmmaker) and Matt (photographer), hearing their stories, and sharing my story… I found that they were quite lovely and not so scary anymore!

In case you missed out on the newsletter, these guys were hired by one of our Sponsors InterOil, to make a documentary showing the work that we do and highlighting our partnership with InterOil. The documentary was released in November in Port Moresby during a Gala Event as a fundraising tool in our “Overcoming the Impossible” campaign!

I love how a picture portraits a thousand words… and I hope that this documentary will help you grasp what I’m involved in here in Townsville and Papua New Guinea!

Hope you enjoy the movie!

Nitchkey’s Family Planing Talk

Contraception, or “Family Planning” as they call it in Papua New Guinea is a very sensitive topic. Rightly so… as there are often misunderstandings, fears and cultural and even religious beliefs that come into the equation. But despite it all, it’s one of my favourite topics!

One day you can hear a family tell you that they don’t need medicine because they boil up the roots of a special tree on their property that makes them sterile, while the other day you get a desperate mother with eleven children who’s had more than enough and wants to care for the children she has without having to worry about feeding one more. And being able to assist her in that way, and give her ownership over her health and that of her family is just very special. Too often I hear of unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, which can be avoided by education and proper use of contraception. In some villages not a single soul will opt for contraception whiles in the next village multipara mothers queue up all day to get this precious medicine.

I usually start the day with introductions, a word of prayer and some health teaching. Most days I’ll do a family planning talk. If throughout the day I see that not many women come forward for contraception I’ll give another talk. Once in the Gulf Province during of those talks, I could clearly see the interest in the women’s comments, and reactions, but still no one dared come forward. I asked an older lady why nobody wanted family planning, and her response surprised me… “Their husbands aren’t here.” “Ok” I thought… let’s get the men here, educate them and get these ladies some life saving contraception! I turned around to find the village counselor and asked him to bring the men of the village for some vital health education. Some thirty minutes later, I started my speech all over again. This time making sure the men understood the risks incurred with every multipara pregnancy, the importance of adequate spacing for the mother’s recovery as well as the advantage it was for them not to have to travel to the health centre if they received family planning from us. The men agreed and the women received contraception. (We use mainly three types of contraceptives: oral/daily tablet, injection/quarterly Depo Provera, and sub-dermal implant good for 4-5 years.)

After I was done teaching the men, I asked one of the local health workers if he thought he could teach the men in the next village. He seemed uncertain, not too willing, and even ashamed… Which made me think I’d be the one teaching forever :(

Little did I know… when I asked Nitchkey, half-jokingly, the following day to use our family planning flip charts with a group of men just how well he would connect with those men!

He had a group of fifteen men who agreed to sit down and listen to this “important talk about women’s health”… they didn’t seemed too engaging but Nitchkey decided that he was going to get his message across…! So he pretty much opened up by saying: “If when your wife is about to go fetch water, you say ‘No, no, no honey, let me do that for you’… when your wife is about to go chop fire wood, you say ‘No, no, no honey, let me do that for you’… when your wife is needing to go to the health clinic you say ‘let me paddle for you’, you can be sure your wife will give you ‘the best in the night!’ ”

Suddenly Nitchkey had all their attention!!! He talked to them for nearly an hour… Talked about why it’s important for a woman to rest in-between pregnancies, comparing the uterus with a bow and an arrow. How a uterus that has given birth to more than three children is like an old and slack bow that can’t propel an arrow, just like a mother could die in prolong labour from weak uterine muscles.

He explained feeding the family in terms of limited resources. If a family has only one packet of bisket (4 dry navy-type crackers) and has eight children, each child would get half a bisket. On the other hand, if the family had only four children, each child would get an entire bisket or twice as much food.

By the end for his talk not only he convinced the men that family planning was the rightful duty of the head of the family but he also had a group of fifteen men say “You’re right Nitchkey, we should all get vasectomies!”

Needless to say, I was surprised by this outcome and Nitchkey was “voluntold” to do all of the remaining contraceptive talks with the men for the rest of our time on outreach! And he secretly loved it! ;)


The Face of Transformation

Last Sunday I went to church and was greeted by an overly excited young lady. She knew me by name, I had no recollection of who she was and it made me feel like the worse person in the world. I had been to this church a fair bit in the past… enough to call it my PNG “home church” and I’m usually good at remembering faces… but not for this girl! I’m hopeless with names, but I do well with faces… usually.

At the end of the service, she came to see me and told me that she had a baby girl 10 weeks ago. Right away I remembered everything!

In mid April while on outreach with the Primary Health Care school, we partnered with a clinic in one of the settlements of Port Moresby. Every Wednesday is antenatal day. My favorite day! All the gorgeous pregnant mothers “Bel Mamas” come to get assessed and get their regular supplies of iron supplements and malaria prophylaxis.

In the afternoon I stepped out of my examination room to take a breather and chat with the mamas. I like asking them how many children they have and whether they’d like to have a boy or a girl. The mamas always laugh at my Tok Pisin and my cheeky jokes. (They laugh because it’s funny to them that a white lady knows their language, not very common.) That day I noticed a much different mama. A rather young lady, too young to be pregnant, and also not glowing… You know that pregnant mama glow…!? Well she didn’t have it.

I sat down beside her and asked a few questions. It didn’t take too long for me to gather that it wasn’t a planned pregnancy, nor was she happy. Mary was ashamed, very soft spoken and cried a lot. I understood maybe a ¼ of everything she told me, but I understood that she had made a mistake, her boyfriend left her when he found out she was pregnant, and then her family also kicked her out. She had no one to help her, and had to work long hours in order to afford a place to stay and some food.

I told Mary that she was loved and that it didn’t matter how bad she messed up, she didn’t deserved to be forsaken. I advised her to seek the help of “meri safe haus” a shelter for abused women to have a home and fellowship. I prayed for her and trusted God for the result.

Part of my work in PNG is very transient and I rarely reconnect with the exact same people. I have a tendency to blindly trust that all is well when I leave. It’s just too hard not to.

But this time, I had an amazing surprise! My “PNG home church” runs “Meri safe haus” and Mary had been staying with them ever since I first saw her 4 months ago. Not only Mary and her baby girl were both alive and well, but Mary was also filled with joy and hope. Something she hadn’t had for the past year.

All it took was for me to stop working. To stop being so focused on the task and to allow myself to look beyond the obvious and see the real need. A 5 minutes conversation is all it took to change this young lady life. How will you spend your coffee break today?

You Can Fish with That!

It was Sunday; Waffle Sunday!

I had decided to stay behind on the ship and have a lazy Sunday. Halfway through breakfast, I’m informed that a boat has just pulled up to the ship with a very sick looking child. I leave my breakfast; give the leftover waffles to the boys and clear instructions not to eat my plate :)

I walk up to the sea-door, and there he was, on his mother’s lap. He looked bad. He was very skinny, pale, very lethargic and irritable. Right away I knew that he would need to go to Kikori Hospital, but I agreed to see him. I did a basic assessment and tested him for malaria. Something had to be very wrong for him to be in such a poor cognitive state.

The patient ended up having a clear sounding chest, no fever and tested negative for malaria. I was pretty much out of grave options for his condition. He had been vomiting for a week, not taking anything down, not even breast milk. Stools were yellowish… little to no diarrhea… no history of TB in the family.

I decided to treat for worms just in case and send to the hospital anyways. We made him some oral rehydration beverage and I had his albendazole and tinidazole (deworming tablets) crushed into jam. I fed him the first spoonful; it went down properly. I fed him the second; the child cried. I gave him a third spoonful and saw something white in his mouth. I must have had a funny look on my face because dad knew right away to stick his finger into the child’s mouth to reach and pull out a 15cm long Ascaris worm!!! Unbelievable! I’ve seen this on photos, thought it was pretty gross… but to see it live, with my own eyes was absolutely disgusting! The worm wiggled its way up to feed on the jam I was feeding the child! Ascaris worms are swimmers! The reason why this child was so unwell is probably because the worms have made their way up his brain!

I never stressed so much the utmost importance to reach the hospital to any parent. I explained how the worms could make their way into their child’s brain and that in order to find a worm this big, swimming up into their child’s mouth meant that the child was probably infested with hundreds of them… The father thanked me, put his family back in his dugout canoe and paddled towards Kikori Hospital.

I washed my hands 3 times and went back to my breakfast. As I was sitting there, enjoying my waffle when Jess told me: “That thing was so big, you could use it as a bait to fish with it!” Ummm Life in Papua New Guinea!

Here are a few photos, straight off google (I didn’t have my camera with me…) please don’t watch while you’re eating! ;)

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Remember Dabi?

I met Dabi in Kawiyapo, Western Province of PNG.

She is a 20 year old lady who’s had a tremendous impact on our volunteers from outreach 5 in 2013. Dabi has been wheelchair ridden for the last 4 years due to untreated Tuberculosis of the Spine (Pott’s disease).

You can read more about her story here.

A few weeks ago, one of the volunteers from that outreach bought an all terrain extreme wheelchair for Dabi! I am extremely blessed and humbled by this gesture and wish I could go back to Kawiyapo this year to be part of the team that will bring her this amazing gift! I’ll be sure to keep in the loop and inform you as I hear more about the outreach going to her village in 2014.

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