Village women work to establish medical post

November 12, 2006

MOM VILLAGE, Papua New Guinea — On this remote island some 30 kilometers off Papua New Guinea's northern coast, a group of villagers have begun taking their destiny into their own hands.

Inspired by the teachings of the Baha'i Faith on women's equality and community participation, a circle of mothers in Mom Village on Karkar Island have successfully initiated the construction of their own village medical aid post.

"The Baha'is of Mom Village decided to arise and do something for their community because the government infrastructures like medical aid posts, schools and roads have deteriorated or have been completely closed due to lack of funds for maintenance," said Abegul Bodick, a frequent visitor to the island.

The project was initiated in 2002, said Mr. Bodick, when the villagers launched a fund-raising campaign, which resulted in the dedication of a new aid post in July 2006.

"Now the entire community of Mom can benefit from this service initiated by the Baha'is -- especially the Baha'i women who have taken the leading role in the establishment of the aid post," said Mr. Bodick.

Home to about 50,000 people, Karkar Island has few of the services available on the mainland. Residents have to walk long distances to collect water from human-powered groundwater pumps. Electricity is a luxury, typically coming from expensive solar panels or gasoline-powered generators.

Medical services are also scarce. Although Mom Village is the third largest town on the island, with about 3,500 residents, residents nevertheless had to travel more than 10 kilometers -- usually on foot -- to reach the nearest aid station before the new post was built.

The children of Mom village, photographed here, will be among the main beneficiaries of the establishment of the medical aid post they are standing in front of. Slideshow
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The children of Mom village, photographed here, will be among the main beneficiaries of the establishment of the medical aid post they are standing in front of.

It was this need for access to medical care that spurred the group of Baha'i mothers here to initiate the aid post project four years ago.

"Both the Baha'is and the members of a wider community within Mom village realized that there was a need to create a medical aid post that was accessible to the community," said Mr. Bodick.

The Baha'i women in the village were inspired by teachings on women's equality and participation to address the problem, said Mr. Bodick, who is an auxiliary board member, a Baha'i with a special responsibility for educating, motivating and encouraging Baha'i communities and individuals at the regional and local level.

"Baha'i teachings brought new values," he said, explaining that the women realized they could take a bigger role in decision-making.

The idea of constructing an aid post was brought up by the women to the Local Spiritual Assembly, the elected governing council for the Baha'i community here. An action plan was conceived, said Mr. Bodick, and the women began a fund-raising drive.

"In fact, the Baha'i women put forward ideas of fund-raising by way of 'bring and buy,' as well as a practice known as 'exchange basket,' meaning that they would ask the women from other villages to come with a certain amount of money and other gifts while the women in Mom provide the feast," said Mr. Bodick. "This is a common reciprocal activity throughout Papua New Guinea."

He said Baha'is also established a special fund for the aid post, and donations were collected at Baha'i feasts and holy days.

"From the start of the project Baha'is of Mom recognized the importance of being united in thoughts and followed by unity in action seen to be a force to driving them achieve what they wanted to achieve," said Mr. Bodick.

He said the women continued this activity for four years and raised 3,048 PNG Kina, the equivalent of more than US$1,000. In January 2006 they decided they had enough money to start building their medical aid post.

Since completion of the aid post, the government's district health office has allocated a trained nurse to work there.

The villagers were proud of their accomplishment.

"If Christian churches can establish aid posts and schools to serve the general public, why should we not do the same as Baha'is?" said Nang Kubulan, an elder in the community.

"Although they get support from their mother churches in Europe or America, we have the support of each other, and can start from scraps if we work together," she said.

During a meeting with some Baha'is from Port Moresby, the circle of women who initiated the aid post project announced that they are now working on their next goal: They have decided to create a water supply system for the village.

(Editor's note: Alterations were made to the article and headline on 9 September 2008.)