With afternoon sun baking down, Mathew Bakker wiped the sweat off his brow and continued sorting medicine in the back of a transport vehicle. The crowds had swelled since the morning. The Kerema marketplace, in the Gulf Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG), was filling up with people.
In the midst of the heat and the noise, Mathew and three other Townsville teenagers: Kim Hahn, Jarrod Keller, and Katie Tydman, were a part of changing history and enriching lives. Alongside YWAM Medical Ships Australia (YWAM MSA) and the local health care workers in PNG, the youths’ goal was to start the work to eradicate lymphatic filariasis (LF), also known as elephantiasis, in the Kerema town.
Mosquitos spread the disease, common in tropical areas. LF attacks the lymphatic system, causing swelling near lymph nodes. It can become severe, painful, and debilitating. According to the World Health Organisation, if 65% of the population receives the medication over a five-year period, the disease will be eradicated.
During their school holidays, the youth decided to do more than relax or hang out at the beach. They wanted to have a deeper purpose for their time. When asked about his experience and hard work in Kerema, Mathew responded, “It was awesome!”
And, when asked why she went on the trip, Townsville youth, Kim Hahn said, “Australia and PNG are friends. If you had a friend you knew needed help, wouldn’t you want to do something for them?”
In just three days, the team trained eight locals on awareness and treatment, as well as, distributing medication to 3,474 people. They were able to reach 47% of the Kerema town’s population. YWAM MSA staff member, Dexter Bird stated that, “The provincial and national health workers in PNG were impressed and pleased with the results.”
Mathew said it was one of the most incredible experiences of his life. But it was not just about the numbers to the youth; it was about strengthening incredible bonds and relationships with PNG.
It has been amazing to see, when given the opportunity, the impact a few teenagers can have on a nation.