Angelica in Africa!?

During our Leadership Training School we were encouraged to set time aside to analyse, think and pray things through. To properly plan all (as much as we could) the details of our projects. And of course hold the plans loosely as things always change. But plan nonetheless, plan! As failure to plan is a sure indicator of permanent failure!

Part of my planing (for the School of TB) included gathering as much information as possible regarding different like-minded schools. To get very familiar with the WHO DOTS program (a TB course for health providers), gain understanding of the village health volunteer program in PNG, and, learn as much as possible from YWAM’s School of Malaria (SoM).

The SoM is a very specific school that empowers students to recognize, diagnose, treat and prevent Malaria. Like a possible future School of Tuberculosis (SoTB), this school would be very narrow in it’s scope of practice, in the students it attracts, in who can teach and lead the school as well as their actual scope of practice in the field. For all those reasons, I decided that I definitely should learn from the SoM! Their pioneering efforts, their successes, challenges, limitations and so forth.

I researched on our international database and found two locations that had previously offered the SoM. One in Brazil and one in Africa. I contacted friends in the Healthcare Faculty and received 2 email addresses, with the preface… “it might not be very helpful, none of them speak English!”

No worries, I thought, I do know a few more languages… I sent out a bilingual email and received an answer in French from Sandra, a Brazilian lady leading the school in Senegal.

She explained the school really well, I was satisfied with all her answers and the curriculum she sent me. She was actually helpful to equip me to pioneer the school here in Townsville, if I so desired. So I explained my ulterior motives for asking… I told her about my desire to pioneer a SoTB… She instantly loved the idea, expressed that such a school would also be a need in Africa. And she then invited me to join them on outreach, which was happening a month from then.

I played with the idea for half a second… long enough to say how cool would that be..!? And pretty much instantly I thought “No way! This isn’t happening, it’s Africa, crazy far away, way too expensive, I’m way too busy, I won’t get time off, I’d much rather have a holiday…” What I then called facts and reason, I can now clearly call unbelief.

For 2 weeks I tried to politely decline the invitation. I would have sat down at my computer or taken my phone to reply at least 5 times and never managed to find the peace to decline. Last week on Monday I decided I had enough! I was going to answer once and for all! “It’s not honouring to keep avoiding the issue, just reply and politely decline, Sandra needs an answer, it’s been two weeks!” I sat down at my desk and started typing away… 15 minutes flew by. I couldn’t do it! I turned to my oversight, and explained the situation… She told me to stop being stupid, and to pray about it. Such wisdom!

Later that day I knew I should go to Africa! To be honest, deep down I knew all along, but was afraid of the consequences! We talked things through, my sense of faith for it, and I filled out my leave request. Two days later, my leave was approved, I then booked my ticket and saw the travel doctor! Three vaccines later (including the Yellow Fever one) I am now ready-ish to fly to Africa!

I usually don’t do this, but I am still needing to see ~$3000 to cover my upcoming credit card bill! This is really unexpected and much more expensive than my usual living cost, if you have it on your heart to partner with me on this journey, you can donate here.

School of Tuberculosis: Eradicating TB one Village at a Time

During the course of our Leadership Training School (LTS) we had the privilege to learn for the founding fathers of our mission. Learn and glean from their life experiences. It’s been amazing and challenging! Challenging to face the reality that it takes time, years even, to see dreams come to past.

But I’m a bit determined & perseverant, my dad calls me stubborn, but I like to believe that nothing is impossible if you’re willing to put in the hard yards.

Being a visionary is awesome! I always have dreams and ideas of things that could be. LTS helped me focus, hone in and go after those dreams.

The biggest cause of failure is to fail to set a good goal. You could be heading in a good direction, but how would you know that’s you’ve arrived at your destination unless you’ve set a goal? It’s better to achieve 80% of a good goal, rather than 100% of nothing by doing exactly nothing.

So I dream boldly and my goal is to Reduce the prevalence rate of Tuberculosis (TB) by 25% in 50 remote communities (in mountain ranges and isolated rivers, inaccessible by road or day trip with patrol tender from the Medical Ship) of the Southern Region of PNG by 2020.

This is exactly what I wrote for my project, however, the timeframe is a little skewed as I won’t be starting my project right away…

In order to decide how to reach our goal, we had to list objectives (things we want to see happen or limitations to work with) and then dream up four scenarios of how to best get to the goal. Once the scenarios are detailed, we measure them up with our list of objectives and come up with the best option and that’s our project. Then we plan it all out, step by step, all the details, steps involved, personnel required, resources and finances…

I chose to pioneer a school for Tuberculosis. A school designed to address the need in remote villages and work together with local health centres to increase their reach and diagnosis capacities. I dream to empower the students to do health promotion and education to increase the awareness of TB. Change the fatalistic mindsets and bring hope!

One of my favourite TB advocate/public health figure, Dr. Paul Farmer once said:

“In the history of humankind, tuberculosis (TB) has killed more people than any other disease. TB remains one of the top 10 causes of deaths in the world and competes with HIV/AIDS as the biggest killer amongst all infectious diseases. One of the overarching problems with TB is how difficult it can be to find and properly diagnose the people who are infected with active TB. As a result, approximately 3 million people who are not aware that they have active tuberculosis and are unwittingly infecting, on average, 15 to 20 more people beyond themselves. You can picture the exponential spread of the disease and recognize how frighteningly quickly those numbers add up: 1.4 million people will die from the disease this year, two to three people every minute, nearly 4000 every day. Yet most people know almost nothing of TB and likely think that it is no longer a public health challenge.”

If only people knew!

I dream of a world without TB… and my part starts in PNG, then who knows… Cambodia? India? Africa? YWAM is beautifully international and the school could be run anywhere!

TB of Spine – Eiwo

Willage, Wisual Acuity in the Wehicle!

Strive for excellence, all the time, in all you do. That’s the rule. The one I abide by anyways.

PNG is know as the land of the unexpected… when many unexpected things happen, we have to make due, adapt, overcome and just get it done.

One day we planned to do follow up visual acuity checks on our patients who had a cataract surgery the previous year. We brought everything we needed in the 10 seater car and headed out with our driver, the head nurse of the health centre and a list of patients.

Half of the patients couldn’t be found. When we did find a patient, we all piled out of the vehicle to set up a station. Except, there was no suitable location to set up, so we decided to se up right outside the vehicle (pronounced Wehicle if you’re german like my friend!). And as you would expect the whole “Willage”  came for the “wisual” acuity check. All in all, it wasn’t too bad, we had the proper chart and the right distance we measured with the tape we brought.

This got a lot more ghetto when it started to rain. Our driver called the patient right into the car! We open the back door, let him in and took a minute to think things through! Initially thinking we’d wait the rain out, but let’s face it it’s PNG, it might never stop!

I looked at the inside of the vehicle and wondered… “This is a big car! How long is it!?” We pulled out our measuring tape and we had our 3 meters! This was exactly what we needed for our special chart… So one of the team members help the chart as close as she could to the windshield! and we asked the patient to move as far back as he could leaning on the back door.

This is Willage Wisual Acuity in the Wehicle!

 

“This Is Number 10… 7 Died!”

IMG_2698

Meet Epa, She lives in Ibuo with her 3 children. I first saw Epa on the bank of the river as we came into her village. She was one of the only ones that spoke English. We informed the people in the village of our presence and came to clinic with her last born. Epa brought her child for immunisations. She introduced him as “This is number 10; 7 died”.

No emotions on her face, simply stating the facts. But her presence alone was a cry of despair. She was asking for immunisations, she knew that it could possibly save this last one. She wasn’t quite sure why all the other ones passed away; pneumonia, malaria, TB, or diarrhea… but she wanted all the help she could get with this one. She ended up being one of the only mothers that came to clinic with her children, unfortunately many were gone to the sago camp for a few weeks.

We were able to reinforce the importance of immunisation and regular health checks, but reality is that this village lived so far away from anything and in such hostile waters that they barely ever go to the health centre. In cases like this I have to hold on to the belief that we made a difference. Belief that women in the village are going to change their view of health and sicknesses, stop entertaining a fatalistic worldview and start hoping and believing for change and health.

Epa hoped for a better future for her last born. My prayer is that Epa’s story would be transformed from a story of death into one of hope that becomes a catalyst for change in the hearts of mothers in the remotes parts of PNG.

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!