Annette Pocock: Annette Pocock’s CommUNITY News no. 1

Annette with some of her nursing students
Hello all

I best start with how fortunate I’ve been to have ended up in PNG, which is actually a really nice place to be, certainly what I have seen of it and the people have the knack of making you feel quite at home. So coming here was a good move & needless to say the first six months have come & gone fairly quickly.

I am teaching at St Mary’s School of Nursing, Kokopo, in East New Britain Island, which is a privilege & indeed a great pleasure. The staff are wonderful & the girls are just too delightful. I really couldn’t have expected a better assignment. The school is situated on the beautiful tropical grounds, of Vunapope, under the Catholic Archdiocese of Rabaul along side of St Mary’s Hospital.

The students are all females & come from all over PNG to study here. There are about 30 girls in each year. St Mary’s, it seems, has a quite a good reputation for nurse education. The school has an interesting history, as has nursing education in general, which has undergone quite a few changes over the years. St Mary’s is currently in the process of amalgamating with Divine Word University, in Madang, with the aim for students to eventually be able to undertake a Bachelor of Nursing. The change from hospital based nursing training to a university linked diploma, commenced in 2003. Students now graduate with a Diploma in Nursing, following three years of study, including essential training in obstetrics. So it’s an exciting time for nursing education and nice to be part of it.

Nurses are certainly the primary caregivers in PNG & the backbone of the health care system. Doctors are mainly found in large provincial hospitals and about 75% of all nurses work in rural health care facilities. The current graduate program prepares nurses to work in both hospitals and to be able to work independently in rural areas, with minimal supervision. Communication with medical staff is quite limited. The program aims to train nurses to meet the needs of the Papuan New Guinean people using the limited resources that are available. So it fosters a very ‘hands on’ nursing approach with little technology & using adult education methods of teaching and problem solving.

Nurses are certainly the primary caregivers in PNG & the backbone of the health care system… 75% of all nurses work in rural health care facilities.

Tumbuans, or spirit figures, participate in a ceremony as a crowd watches from the pier
Traditional medicine is still used in many parts of PNG along with western medicine. And certainly a widespread belief in magic, curses & sorcery is still considered to be attributable to failing health and recovery from illness.

Part of the National Education & Health Plans is to develop all national teaching staff to a Bachelor & Masters level to meet the academic requirements of university programs. So this is essentially where I come into play. The idea being that I would be a temporary replacement for current staff to allow them to upgrade their qualifications, either in PNG or Australia. Unfortunately, this year, staff haven’t been able to get away for further study due to staff shortages, but hopefully Margaret will be heading off to Australia to do her Masters next year & Joanne to Port Morseby.

The staff do a fabulous job. They’re extremely flexible & adaptable to the units they’re required to teach which can change from one year to the next & have a fairly substantial workload. I take the first year students for Anatomy & Physiology & Communications Studies, which essentially includes touching up on such things as essay writing skills, grammar, referencing, oral presentations etc…. And in the 2nd Semester I’ve started teaching Community Mental Health to the 3rd Year students. There is a widespread belief that mental illness is the result of magic or curses, but, there seems to be a growing awareness of the correlation between marijuana & psychosis. Little consideration seems to be given to other causal factors.

It has been a bit of a challenge at times, particularly not having a background in education or being a natural at getting up in front of an audience. But, the students & I have both survived the first semester & sailing smoothly into semester two. I do, have a new appreciation for lecturers & the amount of work & time that goes into preparing classes and marking tests and assignments.

Apart from work, I get plenty of opportunities to do nice things like snorkeling around the gorgeous coral reefs, which I’m told, and don’t find too hard to believe, are some of the most spectacular coral reefs in the world. I’ve never really got all that excited about fish before, but do now. Dolphins are an everyday thing, large pods of dolphins hang out around parts of ENB island & nearby islands and you get used to swimming with sharks that are happy to munch on the fish and leave you be.

Students often hold your hand when they come to talk to you… It’s such a natural & endearing aspect of the culture.

Annette and her students
The atmosphere is relaxed. The people are beautiful and never fail to greet you with a smile & friendly hello. It’s always brings a smile to my face when I see people holding hands, be it a couple of teenage boys or girls, middle aged men or kids. It’s such a natural & endearing aspect of the culture. Students often hold your hand when they come to talk to you. It’s so nice. The children are just way too cute. There are several different congregations of sisters at Vunapope all of whom are wonderful and have been really welcoming to me. The markets are great & have an endless supply of fresh fruit & veges. It is the happening place in town. The cultural dances and festivities have been a joy to experience.

I was meant to include some of the not so great things & in all honesty have racked my brain and can only come up with the ash that blows this way from Tarvuvur, the Volcano at Rabaul, for the first couple of months in the year, maybe a bit longer. This essentially means a lot more cleaning & is never really all that much fun. And it’s not so great for the lungs. But it’s a spectacular sight none-the-less, from the shores of Kokopo or hills of Vunapope. Not actually working in the hospital helps, as I would have some awfully sad experiences as there are an awful lot of deaths, about 40 or so children have died, in the nursery & paediatric wards itself over the last 6 months.

So all in all it has been great to have had this opportunity to come and work here and I only hope the students and staff benefit from my being here as much as I am. I look forward to the next year & half and getting to know the girls a lot more.

I guess I should say something in Tok Pisin, not that I’ve actually learnt all that much, so inap long nekstaim (until next time) or as it has been just pointed out to me, is better to say na lukim yu long baintain (see you next time)


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I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands
to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. - Mohandas Gandhi