PNG’s birthers: unrecognised & unresourced

Village Birth Attendants Ruth Natia and Mandy Namis – “If they say it’s budgeted for women, it doesn’t reach us. It gets lost somewhere in transition”

My Land, My Country

LAE – I was working at Ngasuapum village along the Lae Nadzab highway in the Huon Gulf electorate that I came across the two hardworking women.

An old woman with grey hair was talking with another woman in her late fifties. Both caught my attention so, after my interviews were done, I called them and asked if I could ask them their stories.

The older lady was dressed in a green blouse and had a smiling face and soft voice. She told me her name was Mandy Namis. She was born in Ngasuapum on 24 October 1947 and has four children, 14 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Sister Mandy Namis told me her story:

As a small girl, I attended Dregerhafen Primary School and later went on to do nursing training at Port Moresby General Hospital.

After my training, I returned and worked at Angau Hospital for some years and later went back to Port Moresby General Hospital to do a one-year midwifery course. When I returned I worked at Angau Hospital from 1975-90 and later resigned.

After I resigned, I joined a Canadian NGO called PCI from 1990-96 and moved to Mutzing Station in the Markham Valley.

There I became a trainer of trainers for Village Birth Attendants (VBAs) and also supervised the VBAs when they delivered babies.

I was with PCI as a trainer. I trained women who were interested to become VBAs from the Markham District, Huon Gulf, Morobe, Salamaua and Wantoat.

The women were trained to help other women deliver babies safely by identifying high risks early.

High risk mothers are the ones who experience labour pains for more than eight hours, are anaemic, bleeding, sick, have delivered more than four children previously and have swollen feet.

If VBAs come across such mothers, they must refer them direct to ANGAU Hospital or to the health centre nearest to them.

I asked Sister Mandy if there were any challenges during her term as a trainer and  VBA:

There are many challenges. Women face difficulties with transportation to hospitals. The VBAs don’t get support from their community or the government. Nor do our local level governments assist.

The VBAs are not paid. They do their jobs voluntarily. I went to Soroptomist International and asked them to donate some supplies, and they assisted twice.

I once worked with the Provincial Council of Women in Lae, and liaised with the Department of Agriculture to conduct training for our women.

We conducted cooking, sewing, adult literacy and also cocoa, vanilla and floriculture training.

I am a Lutheran and one time went to our headquarters at Ampo and saw the Geamsao Guest House which at that time was open – only the roof and the walls.

So I told them: “Why don’t you make rooms and have some furniture inside to make this place comfortable?”

I really want to see the Home Affairs Department resurrected. At that time the Council of Women was coordinating programs for women and we worked well.

These days I see nothing for women. If they say it’s budgeted for women, it doesn’t reach us. It gets lost somewhere in transition. I sympathise for our women.

The other woman was Ruth Natia, also a village birth attendant at Ngasuapum. She is 58 and lives with her husband, who she said supports her role as a VBA.

Ruth completed Grade 6 in 1975 and stayed at home with her parents as a volunteer for her church group. She got married in 1982 and has one child.

She was one of the first VBAs trained by Sister Mandy at Mutzing, attending a two week training program in November 1994.

Ruth has delivered about 400 babies in the village already and still volunteers.

She emphasised the need for VBA supplies and to get a labour ward (haus karim):

Women come to us to give birth, but we don’t have supplies such as gloves, blades, plastics, buckets, dishes and cord clamps.

Most times we pay for these supplies with our own money.

We don’t get paid, but who else will help our women deliver babies.

I want our mandated leaders to look into our plight.

Can they at least allocate funding to build our haus karim.

Just a small building with two beds for women to deliver, a toilet and a shower room, a waiting room and a tank for water. That’s what we need.

Ruth has also assisted women from nearby communities of Wansa, Saksak, Tapuran, Munum and Watut. Many women come with complications such as twins, breach and high blood pressure.

Ruth is one of the many unsung heroines of modern Papua New Guinea.

She is a courageous woman and wants to train other young women in her village to become VBAs.

Every month she attends Wampar Health Centre reporting the birth date, village, parents name and delivery details of every child for the government’s population data.

My heart goes out to all our village birth attendants and the marasin meris(volunteer health workers) in our nation.

They deserve to be recognised for their part in the development of our country.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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