Just a short way up the Fly River sits a village called Wariobodoro. As the YWAM Medical Ships Australia (YWAM MSA) Zodiac towed a large dugout to this village, the crew heard many stories of life in Wariobodoro. It was a clear, but daunting, picture of life along the Fly in Western Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The crew had first decided to visit when they were told of many cases of lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, in the village. As the Zodiac rounded the bend, however, they began to see this was just one of many things going on. A crew member prodded the local translator and pointed to a water tank with a gaping hole in the side.
“What happened to your water tank?”
Lynette responded, “The tribe up the river. They destroyed our village, killed my father.”
After many more questions it was clear tribal feuds had been taking place. The results were nothing short of death and destruction. The origins of the feuds were never made clear. It appeared close to a hundred years, possibly more, it had gone on. In the midst of the most recent fighting, 45-year-old Wabare was stabbed to death; the village left in ruins.
Soon after this news, the crew pulled the Zodiac into an offshoot creek, stepping into the eroded banks to be greeted by the villagers. They were ushered to the middle of the village where many of the population had gathered.
After introductions, the small YWAM MSA team was able to meet some of the people who were said to have lymphatic filariasis. The first man was Doko, a 48-year-old who had symptoms since his school days. The team inspected his swollen feet with clear signs of the illness. Thankfully, Doko was still able to walk and not in significant pain. They were also told Anei, another man with the disease in his hand, was out in the sago fields and not available for interview.
Another woman was taken to a more private area to show the effects the disease had on her. She pulled up her shirt to reveal a mass on her lower abdomen. At a glance, this was not the effects of the lymphatic filariasis but something unknown. To the untrained eye, it could have been a massive tumor. Speculation aside, it appeared painful and untreatable in this area, a testament to the endurance and strong nature of the villagers.
Besides the small clinic in Teapopo, a few hours away, and Daru, at least a week long canoe trip, a few days with an outboard motor, the people in Wariobodoro had no options. They were grateful for YWAM MSA’s two day visit to the area.
After a village assessment and the fixing of two outboard motors, the crew and Zodiac bounced back across the waves to the Ship. The Zodiac also brought along Waneti and Sogomi to be treated in the dental clinic onboard. Waneti sat with a shirt clenched in his mouth, attempting to shut out the pain from severe tooth decay and infection. He had been suffering for over two weeks.
Sogomi had suffered even longer. He has had pain for at least five years. That’s about the time he started only eating on the right side of his mouth, to chew on the left was unbearable. YWAM MSA learned from him that dental provisions like tooth paste and brushes were not available outside of Daru. Dental care was much the same. The only option had been to live with the pain.
With many health concerns and pain in the area, it would be easy to be overwhelmed, but the YWAM MSA volunteers were grateful to bring relief. The people of Wariobodoro and the surrounding Teapopo area are resilient and strong. Whether nature or tribal fights are causing pain and problems, they seem to face it head on. It reminded the crew just how much YWAM MSA needs to continue its work in the Fly River, strengthening communities with development teaching, equipping health workers and clinics, and giving the locals a better chance at a healthy life.