Simon’s Story – The Joy Your Help Brings

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.”

Kate, Simon and their children Emmanuel and Joy in Madang in 2021

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.”

 

Shining a Spotlight

There is little doubt our Overseas Program Manager (and up until Dec 1st, our Indigenous Program Manager), music lover and amateur bird watcher, Sr Anne Foale RSM, truly embodies the spirit of a “walking nun” and a Sister of Mercy in Action. She has dedicated her life to assisting others.

In October Anne was proudly announced as one of four “Shining Light Award recipients” who were celebrated by The Friends of Tenison Woods College and recognised for “significant contributions made by former students to the local and global community in order to inspire current and future students”. She accepted the award in an online ceremony.

Born in Mount Gambia, Anne attended a Mercy school and says she always felt a calling. Her great aunt was a Sister of Mercy in Mt Gambia and – being the eldest of nine children – she laughs that “by 16 I felt I’d had my days of babies and child rearing!”.

She always saw Sisters of Mercy as women who have lived a fulfilled life. “They live with purpose, faith and compassion,” she says. Inspired by her music teacher, Anne was encouraged to study nursing first, which she did at Royal Adelaide Hospital.

In 1974 she worked as a lay missionary nurse in the Broome Diocese and completed her midwifery training in Perth before joining the Sisters of Mercy in 1978. She spent the next 30 years working on the ground in supporting women in early motherhood, at Coolock House in Morphett Vale, south of Adelaide; supporting Aboriginal women in communities in the Kimberley (WA)  Port Augusta (SA), and later in East Timor with the Jesuit/Mercy Refugee Service.

“Mothers and baby nursing was where I felt at home. I had watched my mother struggle with many babies in terrible isolation with little support and very little information. And I reckon all women deserve better than that. … That was the driving force for me to support women in early motherhood and make it an experience of empowerment for them.”

With an innate love for the bush, Anne says she learned the “importance of civil disobedience in the face of inhumane government policies” while working to support refugee and asylum seekers at the Baxter Detention Facility near Port Augusta, until the facility was closed.These people were from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Africa – often they were stateless, and their misery was used for political purposes.”

Staying on at Port Augusta, she worked with a team in a dedicated birthing program for Aboriginal women to hopefully have a more empowering experience of birth and motherhood. Since starting with Mercy Works in 2016, and up until COVID-19 forced her return home, Anne has largely been working in Papua New Guinea and Timor, away from the cities and traffic! “We work to give people a hand up rather than a handout, and I really enjoy the cultural diversity.”

With COVID having such a huge impact on Anne’s work over the last two years, with zoom calls rather than trips to disadvantaged villages, Anne says she can still see the impact and difference to people’s lives through the Mercy Works projects and is looking forward to a trip to Adelaide in December to check in on several Aboriginal Advocacy projects particularly for women and their children.

“Life is worthwhile when we focus on the needs of others rather than just ourselves and this was a big motivating force for me. In life, I believe it’s important to develop a sense of gratitude for all that we’ve been given – to be empathetic to others and to work with compassion for those who have less than ourselves.”

Her advice for a fulfilled life? “Figure out what your gifts are and what you have a passion for – and use them to make a difference for others whether they are people or our planet.”

 

 

 

Exiting Modern Day Slavery – Healing the Harm from Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is real. It has destroyed countless lives and families; it is a violation of human dignity, a crime, and a result of a complex set of circumstances. In the Philippines, human trafficking for sexual exploitation is especially prevalent among young women and girls, with Cebu City a major destination for sex tourism and international and domestic trafficking of children aged from 11 to 17 years old. 

About 10,000 women are engaged in prostitution in Cebu and half are underage. They often suffer varied effects of abuse including repeated abortions, become HIV positive, suffer psychologically, experience violence and low self-esteem – all which makes them more vulnerable to further abuses. They are often recruited or taken against their will, forced into debt and drugs by perpetrators, are undocumented and threatened with imprisonment or deportation and can’t see a way to escape the cycle they are trapped in.

This year Mercy Works is proud to have expanded to partner with two new projects with women and girls who have experienced prostitution and human trafficking. One is in Mindanao, Balay Banaag, a residential centre run by the Marist Sisters to provide care and support for the daughters of females working in prostitution. 

The other is the Creating Change for Women through Advocacy project in Cebu City in partnership with the Villa Maria Good Shepherd Sisters, who established Welcome House in 2007, and now have four centres that aim to raise the leverage of women who have exited from prostitution and survived human trafficking.  

They offer temporary shelter, conduct outreach on the streets of Cebu and the red-light district, they refer clients to their long-term recovery center and help women re-integrate back into the community and gain employment. Their success rate is high.

However, this advocacy program, which started in September, hopes to give women a voice, to engage the community and raise awareness and educate future generations to end this modern-day slavery and create their own opportunities for development utilising advocacy. 

Human trafficking usually occurs as a result of a process over the life course of the women and children, not the Hollywood stereotype so often depicted. Factors that push women and girls to become the victims of traffickers include poverty, rural isolation, violence and sexual abuse, lack of education and employment, dysfunctional family, cultural factors, and lack of information. The victims are vulnerable and exploited.

“My dream is for these women, who are victims of human trafficking for sexual purposes, to be heard,” says Arianne Nadela, social worker of 14 years and Program Coordinator at Good Shepherd HEART.

“Our hope is to be one as a group and heard because they are voicing out what they need through their own voices, so they can represent their situation and their life stories.”

The goal, says Sr Virgo RGS, the Ministry Development Coordinator of the project, is “to raise the level of society’s response on human trafficking and safeguard the right of women and children to live and enjoy a peaceful and secure environment”.

And while advocacy is an old strategy, the expression on how it will be conducted evolves. It is the women themselves who design, implement, and decide intended outcomes. Those who have experienced trafficking are our best teachers, that is what makes this project different. 

“Change is empowerment,” says Sr Virgo. “This is changing the narratives from being project beneficiaries to project conceptualisers and implementers…if there is a chance to bring the women to a wider arena to other parts of the Philippines and even to the United Nations, to other countries to ensure that women’s voices will not only heard locally but also through the world since human trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon and needs the alliance from all people around the world.” 

The advocacy is divided into six components including training women to become strong advocates against human trafficking; to spearhead a coalition of like-minded non-government organisations to recommend, reform and legislate; to engage stronger dialogues with local city officials and government institutions; to provide a mental health wellness program; to do research and really address the needs of victims and survivors and produce advocacy materials which better communicates their message.  

In Cebu, Mercy Works seeks to listen to the experiences of these persons, accompany them in their personal journeys and develop with them holistic programs to meet their needs. We support women and girls in healing, self-sufficiency through employable skills, economic and personal growth opportunities, and reconciliation with often estranged families, adhering to our vision to partner with the most vulnerable toward opportunity, dignity, and self-reliance. 

ONE SURVIVOR’S STORY: THE ROAD TO RECOVERY and ADVOCACY

As an 8-year-old, Mely was abused by her stepfather in the Philippines. He threatened her at knife point after she watched him rape her sister. When she confronted her mother and neighbours about it, she was placed into a Jesuit-run orphanage for seven years.

As a teen, she accepted an offer of laundry work and a free education from an “elegant woman visitor” who arranged transportation to Cebu, a city distant from her hometown.

Within hours of arriving in Cebu, she was forced to dress up and prostituted. “I cried, when she explained our real work,” says Mely through tears. “I asked her to take me back, I had no idea how this had happened.” She was forced to use drugs to stay awake all night and “improve the glum demeanour” she was told discouraged customers.

Mely begged for release but was told she had to pay for the transportation and other expenses incurred by her traffickers. She resigned herself to a life of prostitution. “I felt hopeless and worthless. I felt already ruined,” Mely says.

One day she woke up still high on drugs in her room and made herself a promise; she would have a future. She had met a compassionate man, who helped her escape. He had introduced her to the Good Shepherd Welcome House in Cebu and she knew she was finally ready to trust in others. With their help and five years of effort, she overcame her drug habit, finished high school, and trained to be a nurse’s aide. “I had to learn how to forgive myself and the people who caused me pain,” she says. 

Mely is now an activist and survivor of sex trafficking in Cebu. She graduated from her bachelor in Science in Social Work and now serves as the Project Coordinator of Good Shepherd Welcome House for trafficked women. She has also spoken to the UN of her experiences alongside Sr Angela Reed RSM.

“I want to give them hope. I want to be an inspiration and give voice to all the abused women out there. I want to show them that if I could change my life, they can too,” she says.

“Four nights a week, I visit different areas to walk with girls, greet them, build relationships and tell them about our programs and services.

“I want to raise awareness and tell the world that my story isn’t just a story, it’s a reality.”

Chair’s Report 2021

KATHLEEN DONNELLON | Chair of the Board

Over the last twelve months, Mercy Works has continued to adapt to rapid change. 

We haven’t been able to visit our programs in Papua New Guinea or Timor Leste, or our new programs in the Philippines.  We have had limited opportunity to visit our Australian programs.  Some, such as Mercy Connect, have gone into hibernation for much of the pandemic, although our volunteers are ready to head back to school whenever the schools are ready to have them. Others, such as our nutrition project for expectant mums in Maucatur, Timor Leste, have continued unabated.  Staff have spent weeks working from home and the board has not had a face-to-face meeting since the pandemic began.

Yet, there have also been blessings.

New projects have begun. In the Baucau district of Timor Leste, we have partnered with Australian Marist Solidarity (AMS) to bring hope and opportunity to children and adults with disabilities.  In the Philippines, our new program partners provide support to very vulnerable women and their children, who have been affected by human trafficking and prostitution.

In Australia, we have commenced new programs in partnership with our First Nations people.  These include supporting local communities to provide an alternative educational model for young Indigenous women (at Cape York Girl Academy, Cairns) as well as strengthening ties for vulnerable women between community and country (The Miewi (Spirit) and Culture Matters Project, Adelaide, SA).  World leaders have recently finished meeting in Glasgow to discuss action to address climate change, and there is considerable irony in Australia being a recalcitrant international player on this front, when we are surrounded by the wisdom and experience of our Indigenous people, in living as one with the land.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused delay in the roll out of our new program in Simbu, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.  I am very conscious, as I write this, of the extreme pressure that Covid-19 is placing on our Papua New Guinea staff and volunteers, their families, friends and community members.  The current rate of double-dose vaccination in PNG is less than 2%.  Timor Leste is currently at about 35%. Meanwhile, my son, who is a front-line health-care worker in Melbourne, has received his third dose of Pfizer. It’s impossible to understand how this extraordinary inequality can exist between these neighbouring nations.  This avoidable disparity in vaccination coverage is deeply frustrating, especially because for a time there was genuine hope that appropriate assistance would be given to developing nations, to ensure vaccine availability.

This year, Mercy Works staff and directors took time to revisit our Mission, Vision and Values, as part of our strategic planning process.  Our new Vision statement is:

Mercy In Action.  Partnering with the most vulnerable, toward opportunity, dignity and self-reliance.

Catherine McAuley, who founded the Mercy Congregation in Dublin in 1831, gave shelter and nurture to women and children in need at a time when the only alternative for the sick, homeless, poor or otherwise vulnerable, was the workhouse.  She provided them with education and ‘built capacity’, generations before that phrase became jargon for developing a person’s skills and abilities.  Mercy Works seeks to walk in Catherine’s shoes.

On occasion, however, our long term aims need to give way to short term necessity.  This was the case in Papua New Guinea this year.  Our appeal in April for emergency relief for PNG followed a plaintive call for help from Sr Maryanne Kolkia in Simbu, where serious disruptions to the food and water supply chains in remote areas of the Highlands resulted in food shortages. The generosity of you, our supporters and donors, to this appeal was overwhelming.  It resulted in food, water and water tanks being supplied to people throughout the Highlands, and in Kiunga and Wewak.  Sincere thanks must go to the extraordinary team of volunteers on the ground in PNG, who undertook the huge task of rolling out the deliveries to all those people in need.

I am finishing my time as Chair of Mercy Works this year.  There have been significant challenges over my time in the role, not the least of which was being part of an international development organisation during a world-wide pandemic.  There have also been significant structural and organisational changes within Mercy Works, to strengthen our sustainability into the future.  What has not changed, however, is the need for continued support of people who are marginalised and vulnerable, and the extraordinary commitment to the mission of that work, by all the people who work or volunteer for Mercy Works.

Many thanks to the Members of Mercy Works Ltd, who are the four Congregations of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia, namely The Institute of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia and Papua New Guinea (ISMAPNG), The Paramatta Congregation, The Brisbane Congregation and The North Sydney Congregation.

To all of our generous supporters, heartfelt thanks.  This essential work cannot continue without your ongoing generosity.

I would particularly like to thank all the very hard working and committed Board directors and Committee members I have worked with throughout my time at Mercy Works. I have felt proud to work with such a highly skilled, thoughtful and mission focused group.  I do want to offer particular thanks to Travis Bowman and Frank Elvey, as Chairs of the Finance Risk and Audit Committee and the Program Committee respectively.  They are both wise, experienced, and generous men, and I am very grateful to them for their unerring support of the organisation, and of me personally.

Deep thanks also, to the Mercy Works staff and to the many volunteers, all of whom are in their roles because they are moved by Catherine’s call to walk with those in need.  Huge thanks must go to Sally Bradley RSM, for her strong, insightful and energetic leadership.  It has been such a joy and privilege to work closely with Sally.

Finally, I want to wish Mercy Works all the very best as it heads into the future.  I have felt honoured to Chair such a mission-filled ministry.  I know that Joe Zabar, as the new Chair, will bring great, new gifts to the role, and I know that he will be well supported by a highly capable board and Executive Director.

While processes and people will continue to change along the way, what does not change is the Mercy Works mission.  Catherine’s call that ‘The poor need help today, not next week’ continues to resonate at the heart of all we do.  I feel so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of this earthy, people-focused and highly effective organisation, which will remain very close to my heart.

Christmas blessings to you all.

 

#TheTwoOfUS

Christine, 70, and Rodiayh, 26, met through Mercy Connect Sydney when Yemen refugee Rodiayh arrived in Australia by boat and started at Bankstown Senior College where she instantly connected with our volunteer, Christine, who she calls her ‘Life Guardian’. They’ve been each other’s closest confidantes ever since, becoming friends for life. Here they share their special story. 

 “I was born there, born to suffering. My beginning is like a dot at the end of a line with no beginning….. I left all my sorrows and pains in the boat that sank in Australia’s waters …” – Rodiayh, former Mercy Connect Sydney student 

CHRISTINE: Early in 2015 I was introduced to Rodiayh, a shy year 10 student who was described as withdrawn. Her trust and our easy connection were, I think, a surprise to us both. Shyly she responded to my gentle enquiries.

A crumpled piece of paper pulled from her pocket on our second meeting outlined her enormously difficult journey as a refugee. She offered a small heart-wrenching account of her life before arriving in Australia. From there somehow, we’ve never looked back. Rodiayh was always up for a challenge, from small steps to surprising leaps of imagination. She is a gifted writer. She has a lovely gift of metaphor in writing. She won a couple of writing competitions at school; her words are so honest and imaginatively framed.

It was in 2009, a year or so after I retired from an art teaching career, I had spotted a volunteer call up in the Sydney Morning Herald with Mercy Connect. It felt a perfect fit, a chance to give back after a career that had offered me so much. After working in several schools, I moved to Bankstown Senior College in 2012 where the highly committed staff were able to identify students in special need of support.

Just a year or two back, I’ve had the privilege of joining a large gathering of Somali women at Rodiayh’s house, long after she left school, as her mum farewelled a friend leaving for Melbourne. The gorgeous outfits, dancing, singing, and shared foods allowed me to taste a world way beyond my imagining.

Rodiayh and I have shared films, botanical garden walks (both Auburn and Mt Annan), a visit to the Powerhouse Museum with the twins and my grandsons but perhaps most memorable for me was a trip to observe World “Wuthering Heights” Day in Sydney Park. Many hundreds of Kate Bush lookalikes gathered to dance, and a choir sang on a hillside as we both “escaped”.

Rodiayh and her family face an unreasonable wait for their family protection visa which would challenge the best of us. This prevents her from the study of now expensive TAFE diploma courses and receiving a student loan, but she has made the best of working in a low paid and low skilled office job AND working in a COVID testing station! When I heard she was working there, I thought; ‘you’re my hero!’ That’s just amazing. Best of all is a young man I have met who recognises Rodiayh’s exceptionally warm heart and spirited character. I wanted to take them to lunch, but they were happy with my home-made soup.

Just two nights ago we hugged and sat together at her home, meeting for the first time in almost five months. She had just gotten home from work but made me Somali coffee and cooked wonderful spring rolls her mum had made and frozen which were welcome as I was starving! We talked together about the future and her dreams.

Now Rodiayh is 26 and I know we are friends for life. So much in life is fortuitous. I am so much richer for giving that little hand of support. She is remarkably resilient. Her strength of character, her creativity, her warmth, her mothering, her loyalty to her friends, her talents. These are among the many reasons why I love this young woman.

RODIAYH: In 2015 life smiled at me again. At Bankstown Senior College I met Ms Christine, a woman full of life who was to become my lifeguard. She was the first volunteer person I met. It was at a time when I had fallen into a sea that I could not get out of, and she was the hand that lifted me up. 

Ms encouraged me to do the things I love. She helped me in my practical, school, and social life. Ms was my advisor, she gave encouragement, and determination and today she is still that to me. I was a shy girl by nature and antisocial. I still don’t make friends easily but just talking to her on that first day, I knew that I could bury my secrets with her. I felt that feeling of a friend, mother, and sister had arrived that I’ve never had. I remember when she said to me, I am a part of her family. That made me cry a lot and I couldn’t hold my tears. 

My grandparents came with the first wave to Somalia, but because racism overshadowed humanity, my parents took the second wave to Yemen. With each wave, the sea has carried a story. And fate judged those stories to be repeated. I was born there, born to suffering. My beginning is like a dot at the end of a line with no beginning. Once again fate whispered to us that the wave was coming.

From my childhood I used to call Australia my dream land. I wanted to be the one to ask fate to stop the waves and give me a future. After three years in a refugee camp in Indonesia we were all called boat people. I left all my sorrows and pains in the boat that sank in Australia’s waters. It’s the reason I don’t like to go to the beach, and l don’t like to hear the sound of the sea. It’s strange to have that thought, to dread those memories and the sounds that drowned in the sea. They come back to me when I go to the beach. 

Ms was my inspiration when I wrote a story for a writing competition at school, and she was the first to read it. I always loved it when she read my stories in her voice. I call her Ms not because she was my teacher at school or because it’s a habit, but I call her Ms because she is still the Ms who smiled at me when I was in one of my saddest times, supported me when I felt my weakest. She was always the guardian of my dreams.

I tried to call her Chris but ended up with Ms. The first time I went to the theatre was with Ms in Bankstown. I was so excited and happy! For me it was a different world, and I loved the discussion that took place between us after the play ended. I still remember every word. Even the first time I went to the cinema was with Ms. We saw the movie “Brooklyn” which we both loved. I have many bad memories. But everything with Ms has a special place in my memory that I will never forget.

Since leaving school I have mostly worked in childcare. The children I looked after then also called her Ms. I think that If I hadn’t met Ms at school, I wouldn’t have finished high school and I wouldn’t be who I am now, a strong young woman.

I decided I wanted to be a frontline worker during COVID as a COVID-19 tester, to give my dream land a hand in bad times. She still encourages me to study and learn so that I can have a better job and life. She also encourages me to stick to my dream that one day I will be a writer. 

Ms is always the first person I asked for help for my family or me. During COVID she was the only one asking about my family and me specifically. We live in one of the 5 LGA areas of concern. It was hard as one of my brothers had COVID and we all had to be isolated at home. 

I am still working in childcare five days a week and weekends at a COVID testing station. I love to help people and be close to children. I wish I could take away all the pain and tears from children and give happiness instead. I wish all children in the world to not have a single day of worry and to have a childhood not like my one. I wish to work one day with children with disabilities and offer a different life from mine.

The advice I have for any refugees/asylum seekers (even though I am not good at advice) is that Australia offers a chance to have a better life for us and our children. We must try to build and leave a beautiful imprint. And for the volunteers or teachers? Touch the heart not the papers, because most of us had great difficulty in finding ourselves. From the inside there are reservations that bind us from the society we come from, which overlaps and makes it difficult to learn. 

I am sure that Ms will be with me all my life and I can’t imagine one day when she will not be next to me. Kindness shines from her eyes. I love her. 

 

“A seed has sprouted!” Mercy Works Inspires

“For my own experience it is like rescuing a woman on the death row,” – Helen W. Krevi, Officer in charge of the Divine Word Clinic Wewak

A first of its kind, this two-year Mercy Works project completed in September 2021 will have lifesaving outcomes.

The Catherine McAuley Well-Woman’s HPV Project, implemented by the Sisters of Mercy, led by Sr Rachael Waisman RSM and midwife Rhonda Hikin, and run in collaboration with the Catholic Health Services in the Diocese of Wewak, will reduce the statistics of women killed by cervical cancer, and is now being introduced in other Provinces.  

Cervical cancer is almost an epidemic throughout PNG with little or no awareness about the HPV virus, which is often contracted in youth but takes 15-20 years to develop into cancerous growths. Unlike in Australia, no vaccinations are available, pap smears are not a viable option and there are little to no symptoms. Early identification before it is too far advanced is key.

Inspired by the number of women with cervical cancer in their mid-to-late 40s, the Sisters of Mercy initiated and promoted life-saving HPV awareness to communities and training to health workers as well as access for women to health clinics for appropriate HPV testing and referral pathways to specialist treatment.

The project saw staff upskill to identify women at risk at the earliest stage possible by performing routine examinations, including a new technique using ascetic acid (VIA) which identifies suspicious cells that require follow up care.

Dr Grace Raire, The Boram Hospital obstetrician and gynaecologist, came on board providing necessary equipment and information for the trainee staff workshop in September.

While it was a drawn-out process due to Covid lockdowns, community sessions for 6,890 people including four secondary schools, 13 primary schools and 25 parishes were completed by August. Importantly men, young boys and girls also attended the sessions to understand the deadly virus which too often takes their mothers, wives, and grandmothers away. 

“Since undergoing VIA training in August, a lot of women have been coming to my clinic to request information and screening for the HPV virus,” said CHW worker Helen W. Krevi, the officer in charge of the Divine Word Clinic in Wewak. “These women are experiencing symptoms which they have kept to themselves as there is nowhere to go to seek help for their problems. Now help is at our doorstep!”

She says the impact cannot be underestimated. “Early detection is the key to saving their lives as too many have already perished from cervical cancer, and this will have a huge impact by reducing the numbers of deaths.”

Of the sixteen women who have undergone screening [this month], three have tested positive for VIA and have been referred to Dr Grace for further tests and management. “For my own experience it is like rescuing a woman on the death row,” says Krevi. 

“Thank you, Sisters of Mercy and Dr Grace. I look forward to strengthening the work of VIA and have women’s lives saved and be transformed. A seed planted by the Sisters of Mercy has sprouted. Congratulations!”

Delta Covid Update

Dear friends and supporters of Mercy Works

I am writing out of my very real concern for our Sisters, staff, friends and the whole people of Papua New Guinea with this Delta COVID surge. I also feel incredibly helpless! Less than 2% of the total population have been vaccinated and of course there is much misinformation on social media.

Last Thursday morning Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National Breakfast radio spoke with the Head of the Obstetrics Unit at the Port Moresby Hospital. The Professor shared a poignant story of a young pregnant woman with COVID who had arrived on Wednesday from a village 120km away. The unborn baby had already died, and the young mother would probably die that evening. The Professor said that in his 53 years working in Papua New Guinea this is the most awful disease he has ever seen. This story stayed on my heart all day. There have also been stories on the ABC News on television this week highlighting the stress on the hospitals in Port Moresby and Mt Hagen. You may have also heard these reports too.

On Thursday at Mercy Works we had a Zoom meeting with Maryanne Kolkia RSM. If the Zoom connections work, we try to do this every fortnight at present mainly to offer pastoral support. Life with the surge of COVID in Papua New Guinea as you are aware is very troubling and so vulnerable. Maryanne looked very strained and worried, whereas normally she is so hopeful and enthusiastic. I have also spoken with some other Sisters in Papua New Guinea this last week and they too sound very frightened. Many people they know are dying, including some of the Sisters from other Congregations and the priests. I asked Maryanne – how can Mercy Works best support you at this time? She asked for 1,000 masks for the Simbu Province where together with Janet Andrew RSM and a local staff man we have just began our new work. Due to COVID it is not safe for the women there to gather to sew them like they did in Mt Hagen last year. We will organise some to be sent next week.

So, while we all feel helpless, I invite you to join in this Prayer Novena, as we stand in solidarity with our Sisters, staff and friends and the whole people of Papua New Guinea. We ask the special intercession of Catherine McAuley and remember her words to us –

‘We have ever confided largely in Divine Providence and shall continue to do

With gratitude for taking time to hear my concerns for Papua New Guinea. With blessings

Sally Bradley RSM
Executive Director – Mercy Works