“I had a feeling that the villages would be so different from home. But they’re the same in a sense… seeing how the dad cares for the daughter, and how they cared for us. And they called us sisters in their local language. That was the most beautiful thing” said Theresa Bui who is representing Specsavers onboard the MV YWAM PNG with fellow optometrist, Katherine La.
The two optometrists talk of their first experiences so far in Papua New Guinea with YWAM Medical Ships. The friends met studying at university and have been best buddies ever since. Although both of them are Specsavers girls, one works in a Narellan branch, the other in a Wollongong branch – the small distance between them means they can’t spend as much time together as they would like.
When they applied to come onboard the ship, it was a way to spend time together, as well as help those in need with their skills. The optometrists chose to join the Western Province outreach, one of the most remote regions in Papua New Guinea. YWAM Medical Ships has been visiting Western Province since 2011, delivering healthcare and training in collaboration with Western Provincial Health.
When the time came to book their leave, Katherine and Theresa were overjoyed when Specsavers enthusiastically supported their trip. The stores rallied to collect glasses, sunglasses, and even held a fundraising week at Specsavers Narallan where $5 from each appointment was donated towards Theresa’s trip and YWAM Medical Ships.
Talking to them about how they are finding PNG, Theresa was quick to answer, “You have to experience it first hand” she said. “One of the biggest things is just seeing how generous these people are.” She paused to remember a story. “There was one day when there was a man who brought over a huge bunch of bananas and happily gave it to us, even though he didn’t have much. We were so humbled because we knew how long it would have taken to grow and that it was food for his whole family. After seeing us cry he wanted to give us more.” she said.
On a busy day in Australia, the optometrists see 20 patients each at the most, but this week in Daru, the Province’s capital, they saw twice that number. Talking about their day in Daru, Katherine commented, “you could see the work of previous YWAM teams. You could see that some already had surgery in one eye, or only needed a glasses upgrade, that was encouraging.”
Things were a little different in the Bamu villages, a day’s sail from the capital, where basic healthcare is in very high demand and the language barrier is a lot more evident. “The eye tests are subjective and communication is really important.” Katherine explained.
Thinking about going back home, Theresa commented, “seeing the villagers find joy in small things like playing sport… that’s made me find joy in simple things”. Katherine agreed, “You feel like in your life, you focus on all those little trivial things and this trip helps you zoom out.”
The girls are happy to have helped so many improve their vision, and leave too, grateful that their own vision on life has been refreshed too.
Volunteering positions for optometrists are available October 2017 – June 2018. To find out more information, visit www.ywamships.org.au/volunteer/