In Papua New Guinea, mothers take charge

MOM VILLAGE, Papua New Guinea — In a simple but striking example of grass roots development, a group of villagers on a remote island some 30 kilometers off Papua New Guinea’s northern coast have funded and built their own medical aid station.

Inspired by the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith on women’s equality and community participation, a circle of mothers in Mom Village on Karkar Island launched the project, which now serves the entire community.

“The Bahá’ís 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.

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 that typically comes only 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, they nevertheless had to travel more than 10 kilometers — usually on foot — to reach the nearest aid station before the new post was built.

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

“Both the Bahá’ís 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 Bahá’í women in the village, however, were inspired by teachings on women’s equality and participation to address the problem, said Mr. Bodick, who is an auxiliary board member, a Bahá’í with a special responsibility for educating, motivating and encouraging Bahá’í communities and individuals at the regional and local level.

“Bahá’í teachings brought new values,” said Mr. Bodick, explaining that the women realized they could now be “part of the decision making process” that had been denied to them in the past.

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

“In fact, the Bahá’í 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.”

Mr. Bodick said Bahá’ís also established a special fund for the aid post, and donations were collected at Bahá’í feasts and holy days.

“From the start of the project Bahá’ís of Mom recognized the importance of being united in thoughts and followed by unity in action are seen to be a force to driving them achieve what they wanted to achieve,” said Mr. Bodick.

Mr. Bodick said the women raised 3,048 PNG Kina, the equivalent of more than US$ 1,000. In January 2006 they decided that they had raised enough money to start building their medical aid post.