| Catholic Outlook
PARRAMATTA, NSW - The people of Papua New Guinea have been hit hard by their government’s declaration of a state of emergency to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Thankfully these measures appear to be working with the number of reported cases remaining low.
The impact, however, on the lives of poorer inhabitants has been devastating.
Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province is a town of over 19,000 people.
It is usually bustling with crowded markets and social gatherings, but has largely fallen silent.
The strict social distancing rules have restricted travel for people living in this region, limited their contact with family, friends and support networks, and also curtailed markets that supply fresh food and clean water.
Anne Foale RSM, Mercy Works overseas projects coordinator, recently had the opportunity to speak with Mercy Works PNG coordinator, Maryanne Kolkia RSM.
Sr Maryanne has drawn upon all her management and business experience as she develops connections and creates opportunities to ensure the survival of communities and their residents during this difficult time:
Anne Foale: What are the needs that Mercy Works is responding to during this pandemic?
Maryanne Kolkia: The most urgent situation is the people living in the settlements on the outskirts of Goroka.
Water access is a long way from their homes and there is little adequate sanitation as well. They have little if any land to cultivate because their home country may be a long from Goroka, in other provinces.
Foale: How is Mercy Works adapting?
Kolkia: Mercy Works is looking to support 26 families from the settlements with bowls and soap for hand washing, masks and basic gardening equipment to grow food where they can fit it in.
The provincial government has said that as schools resume functioning in this state of emergency because of the pandemic, all children have to wear face masks.
Mercy Works has been contacted by several schools to make 3,158 masks as soon as possible.
Our sewing department is very busy with this task and several women from previous sewing training classes have come to join the work of filling the orders from the schools so that children can resume their studies.
Foale: What direction are you taking with small to medium enterprise training?
Kolkia: The diocese has offered their large youth centre hall so we can run training classes with our partners for people to attend and learn about small and medium business enterprises and what is involved to start earning income.
Foale: What steps have you taken to keep the start-up of Mercy Works in Simbu on track?
Kolkia: I gained permission from the authorities to travel alone and do a return trip to Simbu Province to do some more preparation for our work there.
I contacted all of the parish priests and village leaders and gave out a survey form to find out what the current needs were especially with the impact of the pandemic.
I assured them that Mercy Works would be back in July to follow up activities with the communities.