A communications response to the challenges of life in rural Papua New Guinea uses storytelling to change attitudes and behaviour.
“My daughters have no mother. My son has no mother. I have no wife”
PORT MORESBY - ‘It takes a village’ is a five-part Papua New Guinean television drama drawing attention to the plight of pregnant women and the risks of childbirth.
Rex is an emerging rugby league star in his local village and his wife, Miriam, is expecting their third child.
The baby is born in good health but Miriam becomes very ill and Rex makes a dangerous sea trip to the nearest aid post to get help for Miriam.
However the aid post doesn't have the medicines or equipment required and Miriam dies.
At Miriam's funeral, Rex decides to build a health clinic in the village and garners support from his sister-in-law, Ruth, and the women in the village to build an aid post.
The drama portrays the daily lifestyle, economic and cultural challenges that PNG villages face.
The season finale of ‘It takes a village’ is raw and heart wrenching but filled with hope as Rex pursues his dream.
It presents an accurate view of the real challenges of life in rural PNG: the lack of professional medical care; the attitudes that impede good decisions; social issues like alcohol, crime and piracy; and the scarcity or absence of required resources.
The Papua New Guinean actors were admirable in their roles and all provided professional performances.
Along with the heartache and tears, there is humour and laughter peppered through the series.
On the eve of the opening of the new aid post, Rex finds that everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
The aid post is burnt down and Elvis, a youth from the village who has been part of the project, turns to the local raskol gang for help.
But as part of his initiation he is asked to kill a village woman and, in the ensuing chaos, Rex is shot.
I stared at the screen willing Rex to wake up and smile but, in this confronting and raw drama, Rex dies.
By this time, I am feeling as one with sister-in-law Ruth, and I feel despair and loss at the shattered dreams of a leader as he bleeds to death on the sand.
Despite this tragedy, it is not the end of ‘It takes a village’. Instead the series progresses to renewed hope.
The aid post arises from the ashes and, as the drama moves to its final scenes, the traditional-style building is opened by the provincial governor amidst much fanfare, and singing and dancing.
The first delivery of babies at the aid post turns out to be twins and in true PNG fashion, the babies are given the meaningful names of Rex and Miriam.
As the series ends there is a feeling of renewed hope that even raskols can change and contribute to society, that prodigal sons like Elvis can be welcomed home, that young girls should dream big – as Ruth decides to become a doctor and return to the village.
All credit to the director, writers and film crew as well as to the producers - the World Health Organisation, the Australian production company Screencraft and The Hands of Rescue Foundation (a charity dedicated to safe motherhood), supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
The camerawork is magnificent and shows PNG in all its beauty and its people as strong and brave.
World Bank initiatives such as It Takes a Village start with an understanding of the social and behavioural drivers of public health, then apply communication techniques like storytelling to engage target audiences with relevant and actionable information.
Jelta Wong, then health minister in PNG, said of the initiative, “After the success of the pilot episode of It Takes a Village, which reached men and women nationwide, we look forward to working with WHO and partners on future episodes.”
Well, I also look forward to many more great dramas about our country that can change attitudes and behaviour and draw attention to important development and social issues.