Damien and Sarah: Damien & Sarah Beale’s CommUNITY News no. 1

Our colleagues: Michael (left) and David (right)
Hello to all our friends!

February finds us celebrating the 6 month anniversary of moving to Papua New Guinea and emerging ourselves in the culture of the Jiwaka area of the Western Highlands Province.

We are happy to report that though many obstacles and challenges have arisen, we can hopefully say that we have embraced them as being contributing parts of the rich cultural tapestry we had wanted to participate in. By this we mean that we recognise that the challenges we have faced are as much about us learning to think in a different way, as they are about asking the locals to do the same thing. We are not saying that we necessarily agree or totally understand every attitude or action, but at least it helps us to accept and respect, so together we can present a mutually satisfying outcome.

For example, in our work we inherited a system in which scant services were being delivered to the disabled and staff were using work resources for their own means. We attempted to understand how and why; and armed with this knowledge, set about changing this so that our primary concern – the disabled – were getting services. We recognised that the two workers stationed out at the new rural sub-centre we call home, had no support or supervision from their supervisors, based an hour’s drive away, and they did not know what was required of them. So, in essence, helping them to understand their positions and together composing a daily work plan and quarterly goals, has been our biggest work so far.

In the past, we could see evidence of international workers/volunteers who had thought it easier to do the bulk of the work themselves, and this led to an over-dependence on the foreign person. We have struggled a bit, but remained resolute in our desire to teach the local community to seek their own worker in the first instance and not us. Educating them that their own local worker is the boss man to go to, and that we are here primarily for expert advice and support. In nearly all cases the sorts of things community members want are things that can easily be dealt with by their local worker. We can’t see the point in our presence, if the locals will not be able to continue the work after we have left.

We can’t see the point in our presence, if the locals will not be able to continue the work after we have left.

Sarah explains and conducts and eye screening
Surprisingly we’ve had quite a bit of success with changing attitudes in that regard. Our colleague is starting to feel more ownership and now understands what he is meant to do in his day to day work. People who visit the centre now ask to speak to David-Siwi, who is in charge of delivering services to the disabled in their villages for our entire district.

We came here to run training in the area of disabilities, but our job descriptions have changed due to greater needs. Our training facility is shared by a sub-centre where David-Siwi and a deafness teacher called Michael are based. Apart from helping them to understand and organize their work, we have dedicated time to tutor them on health and disability-related topics that are vital for them to pass on to their community. Another large part of our job thus far has been in advocating for greater support, supervision and communication by their managers for these 2 rurally based staff members. Again, we have seen progress in this area.

We spend 2 days a week travelling to villages and meeting with the local volunteers. We are using this time to visit 2-3 clients, and with the local volunteer, we teach assessment and treatment skills, record keeping (we are in the process of adapting this, as literacy is not guaranteed) and developing client care goals. These local volunteers are the workers at the coal face of delivering care to the disabled. We are attempting to provide regular visitations, support, teaching and communication for them so that they can best serve the disabled. In the past, much education took place over week-long workshops in classrooms. However, we have learnt retention is generally poor because the knowledge has not been applied. Also because there is a rich oral tradition (as opposed to the written form we are so reliant on), we are focusing on teaching side by side with the volunteer, client and family carer in the village environment. Once again, this new approach is in its infancy, but already we have had favourable responses from all concerned.

There were many tears each morning from old men and ladies who had their eye patches taken off and could see for the first time in years.

World Disability Day: Give Us Our Rights!
Mental Health: Other work we have been involved with included hosting two Australian Mercy sisters (one a clinical psychologist, and the other a teacher) for a workshop in mental health last October. This in particular is a very difficult and new concept to grasp, as the people of this area still very much associate mental issues with sorcery or witchcraft. The Mercy sisters are working in partnership with Callan and CBM in a 10 year commitment to deliver this program, so we look forward to them returning in May for more training.

Eye Screening Workshops: The big focus we have had during November was conducting eye screening in all the local villages. An Australian team, with an anaesthetist, registered nurse and two ophthalmologists, was coming to stay with us and conduct cataract surgery for a week in the Banz district. This meant putting together a list of about 100 people who had severe cataracts for surgery. This involved training volunteers on how to screen for visual acuity and how to recognise cataracts or other eye problems. Although we didn’t run this training, it did serve as a reminder of how much can be achieved, as people’s education levels differ dramatically. There will be many challenges for us when we run our own courses this year. For the volunteers/workers who speak English, it is their third language, and Tok Pisin (which we are learning) is their second. Each village or region has its own Tok Ples (there are over 800 languages in PNG), so medical concepts can be difficult to grasp. Following the training we then all conducted the screenings in the villages.

Cataract Surgery: The week after we finished the screening, the eye surgery team arrived. They came from Mingende where they had done a week’s worth of operations before coming on to Banz. There were many tears each morning from old men and ladies who had their eye patches taken off and could see for the first time in years. Very rewarding.

World Disability Day: In December we celebrated World Disability Day to raise community awareness about people with disabilities and the positive impact and contributions they can make to society. It began with a march through Banz, followed by speeches and some drama performances in the main town centre. Afterwards, everyone was invited back to our centre for some food. Much food had been donated and we were fortunate to have a number of women preparing the feast on the day. Numbers did swell in the afternoon, most likely due to someone mentioning the free food in their speech and we had over 100 people come back. All were fed well including most of the police department who took it upon themselves to come and keep an eye on things (in addition to charging a fee for their services).

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Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have. - Emile Chartier