By Pauline Mago-King
The power in knowledge is groundbreaking, if harnessed to its full potential. Impart knowledge along with inspiration to young energetic people and you create a movement where people are well-informed on prevalent issues in their communities. This is precisely what young Papua New Guinean Evelyn Golma and her colleagues are aspiring to do through the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Health Project (PHP).
PNG, like other developing nations, struggles with ensuring access to healthcare for its people. While access to health services is paramount, so is access to health awareness. As such, PHP is a volunteering group project that Evelyn or Eve and 10 other University of Queensland (UQ) medical students have founded specifically for PNG youth. This project aims to provide PNG students, particularly those in primary to secondary schools, with the tools needed to channel awareness in health literacy.
While various initiatives are already dedicated to bridging the information gaps in relevant health issues, one would like to think that just one more, namely PHP, could boost efforts.
So far, the PHP’s inaugural trip to Port Moresby, which took place from Aug 28th to September 2nd this year, has engaged with over 1,200 students from Marianville Secondary, Gordon Secondary, St Michael’s Primary and St Peter’s Chanel Primary. Under the guidance of PHP, students learnt about a range of issues such as oral health, diet and nutrition, drugs and alcohol abuse, mental health, sexual health as well as cancer.
Of course, health literacy cannot be achieved overnight. But the realization that even a small, incremental improvement in the youth’s thoughts on health matters can go a long way – as far as safeguarding a community. It is this notion that has planted in Eve, a student in the Doctor of Medicine Program at the UQ in Australia, the aspiration to give back to her home. Using this desire and her experience as a volunteer in a former health literacy program at UQ, Eve developed PHP.
“I love that I can practice my passion for medicine not only in a school-hospital setting here in Australia but also in my home country. I have all this wealth of knowledge that I can use to foster changes starting within PNG. It would be a great disservice to my country if I had kept all this to myself,” said Eve.
Using its mantra “Encourage, Educate, Empower”, PHP strives to link PNG students to local health groups and communities. More importantly, it hopes to lay a concrete foundation of a health settings approach in Port Moresby schools. Through its first trip, PHP’s dialogue with students has unpacked the common misconceptions associated with sexual and mental health. Students were also able to raise attention to issues affecting them such as bullying and gender-based violence.
The dialogue exchange between students and PHP emphasizes that more needs to be done to educate young people about healthy living. In raising their consciousness about different issues, young people can equip themselves with preventative measures. Eve stressed that this is a pivotal step in combatting our poor health standards.
“As a soon to be professional in the medical field, we cannot sit in the hospital waiting to treat patients. By capitalizing on this gap in health literacy, my colleagues and I worked so hard to create a program that addresses so many aspects of health that our youngsters do not have access to.”
PHP’s task at hand to empower youth with health literacy may be daunting but it is far from being a lost cause. The program is filling the crevices in health knowledge that are present in both PNG youth and the volunteers themselves.
“As a second-year medical student, my eyes are opened to the deep relationship between health, wellbeing, and development as a person. Equipping people with the skills and knowledge to prevent disease is an invaluable gift. Creating a relationship with young people is so important, as it gives them the opportunity to make better choices and think about their future,” said Rosannah Blackwood, a fellow volunteer.
PHP, however, recognizes the need to keep its cause sustainable. Granted it has already earned the support of UQ, Colgate-Palmolive (PNG) and Kimberly Clark, PHP founder Eve noted that support from the PNG government will further uplift the cause. With their first outreach being a success, PHP’s plans remain dedicated to connecting with more Papua New Guinean youth.