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Mango members on Placement: Louise O'Rourke in Papua New Guinea with Mission Aviation Fellowship
9 May 2017
(Above) Louise at work with the MAF air crew
Louise O'Rourke has been a Mango register member for over ten years, and has previously been placed by Mango as a consultant. Louise recently completed her second Mango placement, a three week position with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in Papua New Guinea. Below, Louise tells us how she worked with MAF, flying to remote locations around Papua New Guinea, discovering how the remote locations they work in can be sources of both beauty and struggle.
This January, whilst travelling around Australia and New Zealand, I spent three weeks in Papua New Guinea on a voluntary Mango assignment with Mission Aviation Fellowship. I had read about PNG beforehand which had aroused my curiosity to visit the country. I really enjoyed the field work which involved visiting the bases to carry out internal audit checks and on the job training. MAF provides essential services to these remote communities which otherwise would be inaccessible to them. MAF have a solid reputation in PNG and I could clearly see that for myself when visiting the bases and how the community had such regard for MAF and its pilots and staff. I was welcomed warmly by everyone that I met on the MAF team and felt at home quite quickly.
I visited several remote locations and quite a variety including Tabubil and Telefomin in the Highlands, Wewak on the coast, as well as Suki and Kawito in the lowlands. It was wonderful visiting these locations. Some of the landing strips were quite interesting and required real skill and talent on the part of the pilots who were all extremely well trained. I landed on one grass air strip on the side of a mountain which was a very exciting landing and we were greeted warmly by most of the village. One village was so remote that the nearest bus stop to get to a city was a three day walk, whilst other villages were cut off from any road access with plane their only viable source of transportation. As above flights are very expensive and it seems that few people travel outside some of these remote villages. MAF’s subsidised flights are therefore sometimes life-saving transportation, for instance transporting pregnant women to hospital to have safe births. Unfortunately, not all babies and mothers survive due to limited facilities in village locations and hospital facilities in the urban areas are extremely limited as well, as I saw first-hand when I met a woman at the Wewak MAF base who had lost her baby.
(Left) Louise encountered many beautiful and dramatic landscapes during her time in PNG.
Although I was based in Mt Hagen, I spent no more than one week overall in the city, as I was mostly in the field. The Mt Hagen market is famous for the best fruit and vegetables in the country and has a huge variety. The city is said to be an insecure city where theft is common so sometimes our movements were restricted, although I did not personally feel insecure at any point. That weekend we lost power Friday night and it didn't return for 48 hours which for me wasn't too bad (although I had washing to do and the water was off as well!) I imagine that for mission families, especially those with children (many of whom are being home schooled) this environment must be extremely challenging at times.
My mission confirmed to me that the implementation of adequate internal controls, streamlined procedures, and staff training and supervision is fundamental to the success of NGOs, yet is the usual area where NGOs and similar organisations need the most support. The main challenge facing this particular team was internet access, especially in remote locations; it is very hit and miss, very slow at times and there is little that can be done about it. Other challenges to both work and living included insecurity at times, inadequate road infrastructure and power supply, limited health and education facilities, limited job opportunities and the usual challenges in developing countries. As before, what most surprised me about Papua New Guinea is that it is an expensive country to travel around; it made me realise that most people are severely restricted in their movement and opportunities because of this.
Overall, I learned a great deal about the Papua New Guinean culture and people and found the experience fascinating.
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