During the last week of June I travelled with Sr Anne Foale RSM, our Overseas Coordinator, to Papua New Guinea (PNG) to witness firsthand the positive impact of the work that Mercy Works does. Inspiration comes in many forms and for me seeing the passion and commitment of our staff in PNG who aim to bring change for good in communities across the country was just that – inspiring. Their stories reflect hope and transformation for many, and I feel proud to be part of such an organisation.
“We must be the change we want to see in the world…” and in Papua New Guinea!
The powerful words spoken by Mahatma Ghandi, resonated with me throughout the Annual Mercy Works Workshop with our staff in Papua New Guinea. Here are just a few of the inspiring stories shared at the Workshop.
The Change in…Kiunga
Juliet and Steven shared stories of the Mercy Works projects in Kiunga. Kiunga is located in the North Fly District of the Western Province in PNG. It is extremely remote and the only way to reach this town is to fly from Port Moresby. There is no direct access by road. More than 75% of its land mass is covered by water, therefore travel to the villages along the fly river by boat can take days, it is difficult to sustain these trips as the cost of fuel is very high.
They had just returned from a 12 day trip to these villages. Throughout the month of May, they integrated three main programs in each village they visited, which included training Village Health Volunteers, Sexual and Gender Based Violence Training and Women’s Leadership Development.
They also had the chance to check in with the progress of a new pilot project in the village of Drimdemsauk. Drimdemsauk is located twenty minutes by boat upstream from Kiunga. This village has a population of over 500 and it’s growing.
Due to a lack of proper monitoring of airborne diseases there has been a recent outbreak of Tuberculosis in Drimdemsauk. As a result of this outbreak, an existing Health Aid Post was recently upgraded with the installation of brand new water tanks and solar panels to help supply reliable access to clean water and electricity. This upgrade means that when medicine and vaccines are available, they can be stored and refrigerated correctly.
Another reality these villages live with is the common occurrence of snake bites. The upgrading of this Aid Post means that anti-venom serum can also now be refrigerated.
Now that this project has come to its completion, Mercy Works are now looking to replicate this work in several other villages who have existing Health Aid Posts but no running water or access to electricity. To accommodate for fluctuations in water accessibility in these areas there will also be access to piped water and a pump will be installed to transport water from the river if or when the tanks run dry.
The Change in…Mt Hagen
Mercy Works in Mt Hagen began celebrating World Environment Day in 2017. The staff, Mariska, Leo, Alphonse, Danny and Theresia have actively sought to promote this event each year since.
World Environment Day is held on the 5th of June every year. To help celebrate this day, the Mt Hagen team invite local groups from all church denominations from primary schools, village youth groups and ‘Shalom Friends’ (People living with HIV Aids) to participate in the day’s activities of planting trees.
Planting seedlings gives them opportunity to watch their work grow over time and to witness the change this initiative is making. The types of seedlings chosen are eucalyptus and bottle brush brought from the Forestry Department.
Over three years, they have planted between 25,000 to 30,000 trees, one person for each tree.
The Mt Hagen Mercy Works Team all wear green every Monday to promote greater awareness of the damage that is done to the natural environment on a daily basis.
Raising awareness of climate change within the community is the key focus and goal of these activities. There are growing concerns that forests that have existed unharmed for thousands of years are at the mercy of foreign companies looking to profit off the resources of the land. Recently the government highlighted the need for all schools to recognise and celebrate World Environment Day every year.
Good News Out of Goroka
Judy has been a part of the Mercy Works Staff Team in Goroka for the past 10 years. She is from a village called Daulo located in the beautiful mountains outside Goroka.
During her early life she suffered from a heart condition that impacted her education and eventually forced her to leave her studies in year 5. Her first contact with Mercy Works was through our Prisoner Repatriation Program in Bihute Prison. Judy spent two years and eight months of her life in prison.
Her contact with Mercy Works is what Judy believes changed her life both physically and mentally. The training and skills workshops in the prison gave Judy the opportunity to learn and develop new skills that she would be able to use to support herself financially into her future.
After leaving prison, Judy reunited with her husband and two children, a girl aged 22 and a boy aged 13. She is also a grandmother to two beautiful children. Judy also began volunteering with Mercy Works which eventually lead to employment. The skills and training she developed while in prison have given her the opportunity to help others who are in the same position.
Challenges Facing Communities in PNG
Having the opportunity to listen to so many stories during the week taught me more about the challenges of community development work in PNG.
These challenges include the time and cost involved in transportation to remote villages and the unpredictable nature of the weather patterns, which are a direct result of climate change.
The staff also spoke of the challenges of developing ownership, responsibility and sustainability of projects by local people.
Steven, from Kiunga, explains that “it is important to go out and work with the whole community, not just the ‘big man’ chiefs, and train everyone to see the resources within themselves by beginning with their strengths. This gives them hope. If we go out and visit each community it is a sign of our care, and more people of all ages can participate and all feel heard.”
Sr Sally Bradley RSM is the Executive Director of Mercy Works.
With collaboration from Mercy Works.