"What Did You Do?": PHP 2019 Trip Summary
It's hard to believe that the PHP 2019 trip is already finished... It was a labour of love by a group of students passionate about improving health literacy. Check out some of the highlights from our trip and shout outs to everyone who made it possible.
This is the third year that the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Health Project (PHP) has run a week-long trip to Port Moresby. PHP was founded in 2017 by Evelyn Golma, a second-year medical student at the time and who is now about to graduate from the University of Queensland (UQ). She recognised the need for improvements in health literacy within her home country so envisioned a project geared towards just that! Thanks to the tireless work of the executive team as well as the incredible contributions from the volunteers and all of our sponsors, we were able to safely and successfully run the PHP 2019 Project from 24th August – 1st September 2019, bringing 16 UQ students to PNG.
PHP 2019 continued in the footsteps of our previous trips by focusing on 5 stations: general/oral health and hygiene, nutrition and exercise, mental health, sexual health, and substance use (drugs and alcohol). We were overwhelmed by the positivity and warm response towards the stations and key messages in 2018. As a result, we made the decision to keep with a similar structure this time around. Our mission was to continue empowering the younger generation in PNG through health, promoting healthy eating, living and lifestyles that they can then pass on to others within their communities.
As in the past, we teamed up with medical students from the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) who were involved in all of the stations throughout the trip. They were an invaluable part of the team and we are grateful for their continued support for the project. They added personal experiences and inspired the local students to follow their passions. Some of the students were even considering becoming doctors in the future. With such a shortage of health professionals in PNG, it is imperative that the future generations look into continued education and careers within healthcare. Thank you again to the UPNG medical students who participated this year. You are an integral part of the team and we are exceptionally grateful for your ongoing support. We hope to continue this partnership and increase our collaboration on the project in the future!
Day to Day
Days 1-2: Our daily schedule was jam-packed with visiting schools, dropping off medical supplies to hospitals, and immersing ourselves in the local culture and natural beauty of PNG. Following our arrival in Port Moresby, we settled into our accommodation and bought supplies for our 8-hour hike of the Kokoda Trail. The following day, we left bright and early to reach the start of our 18km trek, where we walked from Ower’s Corner to Imita Ridge and back. It was challenging, but everyone took it in their stride, making memories every step of the way. However, all of us were truly exhausted by the end of the day. We jumped back on the bus and headed to the Koitaki Country Club for a night of team bonding and relaxing by a bonfire.
Day 3: On the way back to Port Moresby, we stopped by the Crystal Rapids where we spent the morning soaking in the beautiful clear waters. A little much-needed TLC for our sore muscles. That afternoon we did a final run-through session with all the groups in preparation for our first lessons the following morning. It gave everyone another opportunity to hear feedback and make any last-minute adjustments before our first round of presentations.
Day 4: Excitement was running through the volunteers in the morning as it was their first opportunity to deliver the lessons that they had been developing for months. Each station was set to run for 20 minutes and we scheduled 2 hours at every school so we could reach as many students as possible. The first school we attended was St Joseph’s International Catholic School where we were ready to chat with students from grades 9 and 10. The level of engagement by the students was exceptional and this was consistent with all the schools throughout the week.
The next school on our agenda was Tokarara Primary School, which brought a new set of challenges as our volunteers had to adjust their presentations to suit a younger audience. We were visiting grades 4, 5, and 6 with approximately 40 students per class. The whole team stepped up to the challenge without fail, ensuring that the messages discussed were accessible to everyone. In fact, the students enjoyed our lessons so much so that the teachers had to force them to go home as they had stayed half an hour after class asking questions
Day 5: La Salle Technical College, Hohola, was our only school on Wednesday. We talked to students in grade 11 who were completing a trade qualification. This was an exceptionally rewarding day for the Sexual Health team who were distributing Days for Girls reusable pads for the first time. Each period kit is handcrafted and lasts up to three years, replacing the need to purchase disposable options each month. The team taught the girls how to properly wash and maintain the kits. They also focused on dispelling myths about periods and normalising the conversation to combat stigma.
Afterwards, we had the opportunity to go to Gerehu General Hospital and Port Moresby General Hospital where the volunteers were exposed to the PNG healthcare system. Both hospitals provided our volunteers with tours around the facilities. They taught us a great deal about the types of diseases/illnesses that commonly present but also about the capabilities of each hospital and challenges that they experience.
Day 6: On Thursday, we visited Kila Kila Secondary School where we were able to see over 250 students from grades 8-12. All the volunteers thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of having about 50 students in every classroom and it was a credit to both the students and our volunteers of how engaged everyone was. One of the most memorable moments of the trip was after school had finished and girls from grades 9-12 were invited to attend an optional workshop. This workshop consisted of the Sexual Health team running their session with over 100 girls listening intently and then our volunteers educated these ladies about the Days for Girls kits. It was an incredibly powerful moment for all involved and one that will be impossible to ever forget.
Day 7: St Michaels and St Johns were the final two schools we saw, which was quite emotional for everyone as it was the last time they presented their lessons. The students were exceptional throughout the program and at one stage there were 114 students in one classroom. This provided an experience that is very difficult to describe in words but all stations left that classroom with massive smiles on their faces. Everyone put 100% effort into an incredible last day at the schools.
Chef Julz from The Healthy Food Co was a massive partner of PHP this year. This company uses locally sourced produce and environmentally-conscious packaging to cater delicious and healthy meals. His team created all the delicious lunches for the PHP volunteers throughout the trip, accounting for all of our dietary requirements without skipping a beat. His whole team shares our passion for promoting healthy eating and we cannot thank him enough for his involvement in PHP2019. We would definitely recommend checking him out and hope to continue working with The Healthy Food Co in the future!
Days for Girls (Rockhampton, Hervey Bay, and Gladstone branches) was a new sponsor for PHP this year. They kindly donated 370 reusable period kids (350 regular-flow and 20 high-flow), each of which were handmade using beautiful and culturally-appropriate patterned fabric. These kits last up to 3 years and help make sure that girls don't have to miss out on receiving an education because of their periods. We are extremely grateful to have worked with this organisation this year, distributing these pads and seeing the reactions of the girls was definitely a highlight from the entire trip. So let's give a huge thank you to Days for Girls! These kits were an incredible success!
We worked with Airborne Aid this year to transport medical equipment to local hospitals in PNG. After liaising between Airborne Aid and the hospitals to identify what materials were needed, they provided equipment for the paediatric department at Gerehu General Hospital and for the emergency department at Port Moresby General Hospital. However, they didn't stop there. Instead, Airborne Aid also provided a first-aid kit to every school we attended throughout the week, all of which were warmly accepted. We would like to give a massive thank you to the Airborne Aid team as well as extend the sincere appreciation from the schools and hospitals.
Colgate has been an incredible sponsor for PHP since the beginning. Every year, they are exceptionally generous and provide dental kits (toothbrush, toothpaste, and "how-to" instructions for brushing teeth) to every student in our teaching sessions. This year, we were fortunate to have a meeting with them to discuss the best ways to engage students when teaching oral health and hygiene. The two volunteers on that station did an exceptional job talking with Colgate. We continue to be blown away by the support we receive from Colgate. We cannot say thank you enough and hope to continue working with them for years to come.
Kimberley-Clark Kotex is another amazing sponsor for PHP. They provided 48 cartons of pads (thousands of individual pads) to be distributed to all the girls. During our trip, we learned that some of the girls would previously have to go home due to menstruating and miss out on their education because they did not have sanitary products. Thanks to Kotex, we were able to distribute pads to every girl in our teaching sessions as well as provide boxes of pads for the schools to hand out when required to help prevent absences from school. They continue to be an incredible sponsor for our program and we would like to give them a massive shout out!
Our Healthy Teens packs were donations from the Cancer Foundation PNG. They reinforced key messages regarding cancer prevention, specifically focusing on oral cancer. These were particularly relevant as our Substance Use station highlighted the negative effects of substance use and the importance of oral hygiene. Sponsors like the Cancer Foundation are extremely important to help raise awareness about significant health concerns like cancer and how they can be prevented. Starting a dialogue is often the first step. Our sincerest thanks to everyone at the Cancer Foundation PNG team for your support towards our project.
MIPS is another proud supporter of PHP and this year was no different. They graciously provided us with a bunch of school supplies to distribute to the kids throughout the week, including 300 pens and 50 notepads. Having basic supplies can make all the difference while in school with regards to taking notes and completing assignments. We are extremely grateful to have the continued support from MIPS and hope to continue this partnership in the upcoming years.
Last but not least, we would like to thank Equal Playing Field. They are another one of our incredible sponsors and they donated brochures and posters that focused on anti-bullying. Bullying, including cyber bullying, is a pertinent issue faced by many school-aged youth and our mental health station did a wonderful job of emphasising the golden rule: ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’. We would like to thank Equal Playing Field for their support this year and for helping us discuss an important and often sensitive topic.
Overall, this has been an incredible and unique experience that has provided us insight into the PNG culture whilst also giving us the opportunity to work with PNG youth and encourage healthy decisions. We reached over 1300 students in 5 days, which was an incredible effort by everyone involved in the project. We learnt so much about the country and ourselves over the 8 days. I have been very blessed to have travelled to Papua New Guinea for the second year in a row and absolutely love the experience every year. This is a project that our team is extremely passionate about and it was wonderful to see the success of the program for a third year running. I cannot wait to see where PHP is heading for 2020 and beyond.