It was one afternoon in 2015 that Simon Tulkopni says his life changed forever. The second youngest of four children, living with their single mum in the West Highland Province of Jiwaka, Simon was the only member of his family to continue his education past Grade 7.
With the continued help of his uncles and his mum, who had sold the family pig to pay for his university fees, Simon studied paramedics at Divine Word University, and then completed his residency training at Mt. Hagen General Hospital.
Driven by a desire to help combat the high maternal mortality and morbidity rates, his dream was to become an obstetrician. But without further financial support, Simon realised there was little chance of ever being a doctor.
“It was on one afternoon in 2015, that I glanced through a newspaper, that was bought by my uncle, and I saw the advertisement for new intakes for the new medical school in Divine Word University,” Simon recalls. “I cut that page [out] and placed it on my room wall, made from bush materials and I asked my mother, who was a faithful catholic mum, to ‘pray for it’,” he says.
In their prayers Simon and his mum prayed to God that it was “your will” he would be accepted to study medicine and surgery. Their prayers were answered. Simon was accepted, but the fees were so high, he realised it was still not a reality. “I couldn’t afford that and also I already owed my family,, so I had to work and pay [that off].”
Deep down he knew his fate was not sealed.
“Down in my heart I knew that God would rescue me,” says Simon who during that time met a young nurse Kate, his now wife. Kate paid for his food every fortnight while he studied as a non-residential student and in 2018, he decided he had to withdraw from the university all together because the financial stress was too much.
It was in that very hour of need; Mercy Works came to help. “I couldn’t believe it! I later realised that the greater plan our Creator had for me was revealed!”
For two years Simon completed his studies under a Mercy works scholarship. “Sr Anne was sent by God to help me,” he says. “If it wasn’t for Mercy Works, I couldn’t become the person I am today, helping mothers and children and sick people.”
In 2019 Simon married Kate, adopting a daughter, Joy, 7. But after their wedding a pregnant Kate left to work in a remote area only accessed by plane In the Gulf Province.
Then, tragically, in May 2020 his beloved mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer and despite surgery the cancer metastasized to other organs. “She was all I have in life,” Simon says of the unbearable time.
In August, a month before she passed away, his and Kate’s “Covid” baby was born. Coupled with COVID-19 lockdowns, remote logistics and completing his studies in a different Province, Simon missed the birth.
His mother’s parting gift was to name the grandson she would never meet. “She called him Emmanuel,” says Simon of the name which means ‘God with us’. “Even though she never met her newborn grandson.”
In his grief, Simon thought about withdrawing from medicine to be with his family. But it was his family who pushed him to continue. “That was the toughest situation I’ve come across,” he admits. “I changed my mind and continued my studies after resting her.”
Desperately missing his children and wife who he had not seen for two years, Simon asked Kate to resign from her job to stay with him.
She arrived in June 2021 to his working residential area and the couple were able to live as a happy family for a month. He says the visit meant everything. Fuelled with the family time, he has now settled into his first-year residency, which he will complete in 2022. To date he has completed anaesthesia and surgery and is currently doing his residency in obstetrics and gynaecology – the field of study he had always dreamed of.
“Every day I enjoy my work, but I still have a missing feeling in my life and that is my mum. She would have stayed with me and enjoyed the life I’m living now. But it was God’s plan, and he took her away from me.”
Simon says life has come full circle. “Since she passed away from cervical cancer, I’m planning on becoming an obstetrician to help save mothers who are going through this problem.”
The icing on the cake? His wife will come and work as an emergency worker in the same Modilon General Hospital in Madang, in the Marobe Province.
Simon says without the help of the Mercy Works sponsorship, none of this would have become a reality.
“It was impossible for me to complete my studies without their help,” he says of the K9,000-K12,000 university fees. The family annual income is less than K3,000. Mercy Works also helped with books, soap, lunch money, medical tools, and equipment.
“Sr Anne came on board and Mercy Works sponsored me with all the quality medical tools like, stethoscope, auroscopes, ophthalmoscope and a Blood Pressure machine. To date, I’m using it to serve the patients now.
“Because of Mercy Works I have become the person I am today, serving the sick people of PNG. As long as I live, I will still remember the input Mercy Works and Sr Anne put into my life and with all my heart, I’ll try all my best to serve the needy souls of PNG in terms of medical care.”