One in seven women in rural Papua New Guinea will die in childbirth.
That statistic shocks me. In Australia it is a terrible and unusual event for a woman to die giving birth. PNG has some of the lowest health indicators in the world yet this fertile and potentially rich country is Australia’s closest neighbour.
Volunteering on a YWAM Medical Ship has given me a chance to make a difference in this wild and beautiful country. This is my second trip to Western Province on Pacific Link. The converted Japanese long-liner has been operating in PNG for five years visiting remote villages along PNG’s south coast. These incredible river delta systems are a spider-web of uncharted waterways. Few vessels navigate in the area and communities rarely receive medical services.
For the navigator there are plenty of challenges. We carry survey equipment which we mount in a Zodiac to survey each river before we proceed. Often the transits are timed to take advantage of the high tides – although calculating the time and rate of tides in the deltas is a complicated matter. Here in Bamu River we also experience bore tides which travel upstream as standing waves and can change the depth of water by half a metre.
Our ship’s crew and medical teams are entirely volunteers. In fact we cover all our travel, visa, and insurance costs and pay a modest daily sum to cover our living costs on board. For many professional seafarers that might seem extraordinary – but for me it’s not nearly as extraordinary as having the opportunity to be part of this wonderful ongoing project and to offer basic medical services to people in real need.
I think of the woman who had seven rotten teeth extracted in one sitting and left the ship’s dental clinic with a huge grin on her face. That may be the only dental treatment she will receive in her lifetime.
I think of the blind woman who had cataract surgery and the next day was able to see her three children for the first time.
I think of the hundreds of children who are immunised and now are less likely to die from common childhood diseases.
I think about the simple health education and community engagement we deliver.
I think about the radiant smiles on children’s faces as they wave to our departing boats.
And I think – of course it’s worth it.
Written by Madeleine Habib
Madeleine Habib is a Master Mariner who is currently volunteering with YWAM MSA as the Chief Mate. She is based in Hobart, Tasmania.