GARY KEAN | The Western Star
CORNER BROOK, CANADA - You just never know what might come in handy during a humanitarian mission to a country where the needs are countless.
When retired teacher Debbie Murley and retired paediatrics nurse Juanita Jacobs of Corner Brook left recently on such a mission to Papua New Guinea with the Youth With a Mission (YWAM) organization, they knew they could be of some help.
The pair was among more than 170 volunteers from 15 countries who spent two weeks aboard the YWAM PNG medical ship, visiting various villages along the coast.
It wasn’t just their efforts to deliver health and dental care and education that brought smiles to the residents there.
Each day, they would be given a backpack full of items they could use to help the people they encountered as they went ashore.
One day, Murley was looking through her pack and found, of all things, a pack of guitar strings.
At some of the schools she visited, Murley said there no desks, chairs or school supplies and students had to practice their letters by writing on the dirt floor. At one school, she asked if they had any musical instruments.
The teacher said they had a guitar, but it only had two strings.
It was that school’s lucky day as Murley reached into her bag and pulled out the guitar strings she had otherwise thought were an odd item to have been included.
With nearly all the supplies, even the fuel for the ship, coming by way of donation, Murley figured the strings had simply been another graciously accepted donation.
“It just goes to show that every little bit counts,” she said.
At another school, there were four guitars with none having any strings. Murley managed to find one more package of strings aboard the ship for that school.
“The teacher was so excited and he promised that he would play us some music if we came back,” she said.
While that was an unexpected turn of events, seeing the poor residents of PNG receive much needed school supplies, vaccinations and dental care, or watching the reaction of someone getting glasses and being able to see clearly for the first time in their lives, was truly the most rewarding part of the experience.
It was the second time Jacobs has been on this sort of mission to PNG and she said she saw many improvements in the population health this time around, which she credits to Youth With a Mission (YWAM).
“The goal here is not for international people to come in and constantly take care of and be the saviours, if you will, in that country,” she said.
“It’s to go in and partner with the government there and the local people to teach them good health care practices and for them to then take a hold of that and improve their situation when the ship is not there.”
A major focus for Jacobs, who helped provide vaccinations, was teaching the local residents how to avoid contracting tuberculosis and malaria, two diseases which are serious problems in the country. But she said it’s the wide-ranging approach to how the organization could help these people in whatever way they could that attracted her to YWAM.
That approach, combined with the appreciation and gratitude of the people they met, gives Jacobs reason to believe this won’t be her last mission to PNG.
“When you go with an organisation that wants to help the lives of the kind of people we met, it’s absolutely heart-warming,” said Jacobs. “It’s how we’re supposed to be in this life, I think: not just isolated and self-absorbed in this society where we have everything at our fingertips.”
Murley agreed, saying she was a little concerned at first about how receptive the residents would be to this ship of foreigners coming to show them how to live their lives better.
“It was amazing,” said Murley. “It’s a different world. They have what we would consider nothing, but they are very happy people and were very appreciative of what we could do.”
Murley was also impressed with how YWAM conducted community assessments to determine how to make their future missions even more effective in addressing the needs of those they’re trying to help.
Jacobs offered a challenge to anyone looking for this sort of experience, or a health care professional able to offer their expertise on such a mission, to get in touch with her for more information and to join them next time.