PNG Health Project was founded in 2017 by Eve Golma to address an ongoing gap in health literacy. Each year, a group of medical students travel to Papua New Guinea and reach out to over 2000 students to provide a foundational understanding of various facets of health.

By improving health literacy, their goal is to give people the confidence to take more control over their own health, bridging the gap and working towards creating healthier generations to come.

Lavau Kwalam Ngaluc, currently studying in his fourth year of medical school, shares his experiences working with the PNG Health Project.

Mt Tavuvur, East New Britain 

My name is Lavau Kwalam Ngaluc. My father comes from Lokanu in the Salamaua area of Morobe in the North of Papua New Guinea. My mother descends from a family of nomads, that ultimately settled in Viriolo, in the Marshall Lagoon of Central Papua New Guinea. 

Being almost three generations removed from village life and total cultural submergence, I identify as being from Port Moresby as that is where I have spent majority of my life and wouldn’t want to misrepresent the cultures of my ancestors.

What are you studying and what made you choose that path?
I am currently in my fourth year of medical school, studying a Bachelor of Medicine/ Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Papua New Guinea.

Why is it that PNG Health Project target students?
Growing up in Port Moresby and witnessing the enormous disparity between the rich and the poor, it made me very conscious of my privilege at such an early age. Being able to see both sides of the spectrum, it made me hungry to be both successful as well as fostering a drive within me to be a channel for social change and equality for marginalised communities. Culture and religion always finds its way into political spaces, especially amongst Pacific Island and First Nation communities.

Thoracic Surgery Rotation at Cho Ray Hospital, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

The law, health and education systems among others, are often limited by cultural taboos and cultural sensitivity.

The PNG Health Project focuses on delivering the health education that the students in Papua New Guinea are often deprived of because of these cultural laws; such as the use of contraception, mental health, abuse and substance use amongst many others.

How long have you been involved with PHP?
I have been involved with PHP for the last three years serving as a Mental Health community Educator and an Executive Board Member. 

Climbing the infamous Mt Tavurvur, the volcano that buried Rabaul Town in East New Britain, Papua New Guinea

Out of the five stations PHP focused on – general/oral health and hygiene, nutrition and exercise, mental health, sexual health and substance use (Drugs and alcohol) – what area had the most interest and response?
With the conservative nature of PNG and many indigenous communities, Mental and Sexual Health have been two of the most engaged stations during our outreaches. This is largely due to this being the first time these issues have been talked about openly and also the teaching being delivered in an interactive and enthusiastic manner.

Taim mipla kamap lo St John’s Primary School, Hohola, Port Moresby. (Arriving at St John’s Primary)
Mipla stori wantaim ol liklik sumantin lo St Michael’s Primary, Hanubada Village, Port Moresby. (Interacting with the students of St Michael’s Primary)

Some of those focus areas are quite intense and confronting, did you experience any resistance or barriers from schools or families during your trip?
Although we try to introduce more current ideologies into our education sessions, we still strive to make our teachings as culturally sensitive and non-offensive as possible. However, with that being said, the students were quite receptive of our messages and were very curious about a lot of “tabooed” topics and they were happy to have someone openly talk about them. 

Your last trip was for roughly a week, that must be incredibly exhausting. How did you make time for yourself to relax and reflect?
I think I can speak on behalf of all my team that the exhaustion wasn’t felt till after the week of outreach. When you put 17 medical students from all walks of life in one house for a week, you’d never run out of interesting stories to tell, massive study groups, and wholesome chats. We made time to trek in the infamous Kokoda Trail, trips to the market, op shop, and some sun at the beach amidst our hectic school schedule.

 Baim kaikai lo Boroko market (Buying food at the Boroko markets)

What are your hopes for the future of health in PNG?

My hope for health in Papua New Guinea is that the delivery of health services becomes more inclusive of all groups of people.

Although cultural beliefs are an integral part of PNG society, I hope that beliefs can be kept separate and patients should be treated equally, ethically and without any prejudice.

I also hope that with the dwindling health care system, that more focus be shifted to health awareness and education because that is one way of lessening the burden on an already troubled health system.

It’s incredibly exciting to see such an important project lead by a Papua New Guinean woman, Eve Golma, how do you feel this makes PNG Health Project unique?
Evie is an absolute powerhouse! She continues to inspire us all with her drive and passion for Global Health. Having gone through the public system in PNG, she has firsthand understanding of the deficit in health education and is able to guide us in targeting specific topics that need greater discussion.

The Mental Health Station 2019. Left-Right: Jeremy Fernando, Eva Liang, Heather Lawrence, Lavau Nalu

What is the most unexpected yet rewarding part of working with students through PNG Health Project?

The most unexpected yet rewarding part of working for PNG Health Project has been having that platform to address some of our cultural norms, that for the longest time have hindered good health. Just having that platform to have an open discussion is such a powerful tool for social change.

Read more about the work of PHP Health Project here:
Receive updates on social media: @pnghealthproject

Follow Lavau’s personal instagram here: @lavaukwalam
Follow Lavau’s online visual archive of Papua New Guinea here: @archiveples

All images featured were taken by Lavau Kwalam Ngaluc.