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The joys of volunteering
12 December 2006
by Bronwyn White

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: Papua New Guinea is the land of the unexpected in everyway, unexpected joy, and unexpected devastation. As a medical officer in PNG I had unimaginable adventures, experiencing daily challenges, jubilation, tears, desolation, elation, fear, failure but endless fulfilment.

My life as an AYAD volunteer began full of excitement, a heart filled with passion for nursing. I had ambitions to share my knowledge, experience and empower those less fortunate. My experiences as a critical care nurse, educator and midwife gave me a good grounding for unpredictability. In hindsight it was total naivety. I had no idea what was to come.

I worked in 9 Mile Clinic near Port Moresby. Daily treating sick children, distributing TB drugs, heath surveillance, malaria treatment and managing antenatal women filled my days to overflowing.

Until volunteering, my exposure to HIV/AIDS was limited, the learning curve was steep and hard.

I implemented a voluntary counselling and testing program and began to educate and register clients. The results were shocking. HIV/AIDS had begun to take over the community. Nothing prepared me for the impact of HIV/AIDS.

I spent a lot of time with women, educating, assisting, and supporting them. They came to me in pregnancy and we tested for HIV/AIDS. I sat with them, and listened to their stories, I took their blood, I received their results from the lab, I told them of their HIV status and feeling their despair when some were reported positive. Every week our clinic had a new suspected diagnosis.

We did not have the facilities for inpatients, or supporting all our positive clients in the community. A HIV support group commenced, but we were unable to distribute antiretroviral medication. We strongly advocated positive living, and community support.

My first HIV positive client was a 17 year old sex worker. She was a very sick person. Her family rejected her. The community was afraid of her, she was too ill to work, had no means of feeding or supporting herself. The clinic helped her until she was beyond our care. I drove her to the hospital, she did not have a single visitor. She died there. A young girl, a victim of circumstances and HIV/AIDS. She was only a child.

On returning home from my time as a volunteer with our nearest neighbours I have a greater level of tolerance, acceptance, and absolute appreciation of my own good fortune.