Debbie is giving back, educating and caring for PNG girls
IN THE lead up to Day for Girls, an international program providing feminine hygiene solutions, the Hervey Bay Independent spoke with Day for Girls advocate Debbie Butters about her work with the Anguganak Healthy Motherhood Project in PNG.
Debbie said PNG became independent of Australia in 1974 and sadly there were many problems with this.
"The standard of education, health care and infrastructure has continued to deteriorate since independence," she said.
"Corruption remains a big problem, with funds frequently not reaching the communities or projects they are promised to.
"Geographically PNG is a very difficult country to traverse because of both the extremely rugged terrain and the many rivers.
"There are very few roads and most people live in grass huts in small villages along the rivers or in areas only reached by foot.
"Most of the population are subsistence farmers, needing small plots of land to provide food for their family.
"The women and children are suffering the most.
"One in 20 mothers in remote parts of PNG die during childbirth and 5.5 per cent of babies don't reach their second birthday.
"Women in rural communities usually give birth in their village without the support of skilled attendants.
"As a christian midwife, the desire to use my midwifery skills in PNG began with a trip on the Australian YWAM (Youth with a Mission) boat in 2012.
"Living on the boat and being able to explore and provide health care to remote villages each day was an exciting, but also a reassuring way to shake off some of my fears of PNG.
"With a new love and empathy for our closest neighbour, I now concentrated my focus on improving maternal and infant wellbeing in remote and neglected parts of PNG.
"To achieve this I have frequently accompanied Sara David, founder of an Australian charity Living Child Inc. and PNG midwife Rhondy Ktumusi to remote parts of the East Sepik Province.
"Here the focus has been education for mothers and village birth attendants, providing birth kits and family planning.
"In 2015, I led a team on behalf of Living Child to the Christian Brethren Church's (CBC) Healthcare Centre at Anguganak.
"This village is in the remote Sandaun Province in the north west corner of the country.
"We provided training for 64 mothers and village birth attendants as well as refresher training for 35 health workers on topics of midwifery care and obstetric emergencies.
"We ran implant family planning clinics and trained staff so that this service could continue after we left."
Debbie said her midwifery team was accompanied Dr Max Stevenson, who was stationed in Anguganak during the 1970s and had found it difficult to watch the standard of health care deteriorate since independence.
She said Max was no longer able to continue to return and encourage Debbie to form another team.
"Max has made several return visits during recent years to the same healthcare center.
"He has found it difficult observing how the standard of health care and the infrastructure have deteriorated since independence.
"Max shared with us at the end of our trip, that he may not be able to continue to visit because of his wife's deteriorating health and his own advancing years.
"Max encouraged me to attempt to form another team, including a doctor, to continue this work.
"In 2016, I accepted this challenge and independently organised a return trip to Anguganak aided by support from the Australian charity Send Hope Not Flowers, the Hervey Bay Baptist Church's Two Birds Christmas catalogue and women's ministry group Soul Sisters," Debbie said.
"During our visit we met with pastors from Anguganak Bible School and provided them with copies of Ernie Gunder's Tehillah Media Firm Foundation DVD's. School supplies and musical instruments were donated to the school and Sunday school.
"Jim McConochie, an experienced rural GP, and Kym Robinson from Hervey Bay Baptist were the other team members this trip.
"Kym worked as a missionary nurse in PNG during the 1980s and 1990s, she understands the culture and has a deep empathy for the people of PNG.
"Our primary role was to partner with the Healthcare Centre to introduce the Anguganak Healthy Motherhood Project.
"Health workers there face problems we would never have to deal with in Australia.
"The healthcare centre has no electricity because the generator has been broken for two years and the solar lighting has been destroyed by rats chewing through wires in the roof space.
"Tuberculosis patients are accommodated in the same ward as maternity patients because they have run out of funds to complete the new maternity ward that already has white ants attacking it before it's completed.
"Mothers and babies are dying from lack of services, staff have no ability to perform lifesaving caesarean sections, there is no steriliser because they have run out of kerosene to heat the old steriliser.
"They are unable to provide blood transfusions, there is no pain relief and mothers are often suffering from severe anaemia, malaria or tuberculosis while having their seventh baby."
"Visits to outlying villages were performed by Dr Jim, he addressed the men on issues such as mothers birthing without trained support, the role family planning plays in saving mother's lives, gender inequality and the need to value women, the importance of antenatal care where problems such as malaria and anaemia can be treated, and disputed the superstition that men will lose strength if they touch menstruating or bleeding woman.
"Volunteering in remote PNG requires an adventurous spirit, flexibility for when things just don't go quite to plan.
"Courage is required to cope with rats and limited food options, no electricity and the need to bucket water up from a tank.
"Yet my challenges don't stack up when mothers tell me of how they have walked barefooted for eight hours through the jungle, fording rivers with toddler on their hip to come for a family planning implant, so they can have children by choice not chance.
"By doing this they can reduce the risk of dying during childbirth like too many women in their villages have done in the past.
"We return to PNG and Anguganak on April 23, 2017 to provide safe motherhood and midwifery training.
"We take birth kits and the baby bundle bags full of items for mother and baby as an incentive for women to choose a health care centre birth.
"Family planning implant clinics will be run and training for staff.
"We have a team of five with both Dr Jim McConochie and nurse Kym Robinson excited to be returning.
"Midwife Sharon Hemetsberger and tradesman Dave Jensen our new team members have both lived in PNG and are fluent with pidgin.
"Dave lived in Anguganak for six years and worked with Dr Max Stevenson, he plans to address practical problems and assess the structural problems of the Health Care Centre reporting back to various groups who have shown interest in helping."
If you would like further details about our work or how you could help please contact Debbie on 0400 480 256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hervey Bay Day for Girls organiser Heather Sugget said they were endeavouring to send 100 kits to PNG.
"That equates to 200 pairs of knickers, 100 face washers plus a lot of sewing and material," Ms Sugget said.
"I am the leader for Hervey Bay Days for Girls, just getting started and looking for people interested in sewing."
Please join in for a day of sewing, endless cups of tea & coffee, & fun as we sew and pack items for our first batch of kits heading for Papa New Guinea.
A Day For Girls is being held on Saturday, September 9, at the Baptist Church, Nikenbah, from 10am to 3pm.
RSVP to Heather on 0400553295 or email email@example.com.
The Day for Girls requires donations of the following items -
Ladies Knickers sizes 10-14
Face Washers in bold colours
Large Snap Lock bags 27cm x 33cm
100% Cotton Flannelette & Cotton Fabric-floral & geometric
Small soaps (like those from the motels)
Cash donations to assist with purchasing fabric
Donations can be left at -
- Mary Ryan's Book Shop
- Ron Morgan's Sewing Centre
- Scooters & Mobility
- Baptist Church, Nikenbah
Visit daysforgirls.org for more information.