How long have you been with MAF PNG?  

Since 21st of October, 1996.

What brought you to MAF? 

When I was at High School in Vanimo, Pilot Lowell Deering’s wife Gail used to teach us CBC students in Religion Instruction. One day Lowell told us that he is a MAF pilot. For school holidays me and my parents flew on the MAF plane. Then the wish just came into my mind that one day I wanted to work in that airline company if that’s in God’s will. After high school I was unable to continue with my education. I had no work, but I was faithfully attending the church’s youth activities. About two and half years later, Kos Umion, who back then was the Vanimo Base Manager, came and told me during our youth night activity that he wanted to employ a female to work as a ticketing officer and asked if I was interested. Of course I was and sent in my application… Woo… that was my wish, and it’s where I am now.

What is your role? 

I am the Flight Programmer, which means I plan and monitor our flight program, so I have to manage flight booking information effectively to plan a realistic program. I try to communicate effectively with internal and external customers, striving for reliability of service.

What is your favourite part about this role? 

To plan and monitor the flight program, and to plan a realistic program.

What are the challenges?

Sometimes pilots are not happy with the programs that I put together for them to fly and that makes me second guess what am I planning…

Sometimes medevacs become a real challenge if for some reason we can’t help fast enough or if there is a delay in sending a plane to a certain airstrip; a person might lose their life, which makes me feel really sad.

Another challenge is education, health and subsidy passengers in remote places. I always give these requests priority in the schedule, but we have some pilots who are restricted due to their status of training and then airstrip penalties apply, so I can’t always help the request and people out there might need to find other ways to travel – that makes me feel like I am not helping them.

How does your job support MAF’s purpose and vision to see isolated people physically and spiritually transformed into Christ’s name?

By programming the planes & pilots flying from point A to point B, thereby supporting MAF’s purpose.

How have you seen God at work in your role?

Weather problem yet pilots get through / MAF getting to remote airstrips or steep airstrips/ helping medevac’s and sick patients to Hospitals to get help. Personally I can say it is a big blessing for me to work in a mission Organisation; God is in control.

LuAnne Cadd interviews Dr. David Mills in November 2016 about the Kompiam Hospital and how MAF supports their work in remote areas.

Kompiam Rural Hospital in Papua New Guinea is at the end of a road. Everything north is inaccessible except by walking or flying. The hospital supervises five health centers and four aid posts in those remote regions to the north. MAF flies medevacs from this region to Kompiam Hospital, as well as flying in medical supplies, staff and building materials to the remote health posts.

Dr. David Mills from Australia has been working at the hospital since 2000 sharing the journey with his wife, Karina, and four children (Natasha, Ashleigh, Chelsea and Nicholas).

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What brought you to this remote place?

I’m from Australia, whence all good things come. I came as a medical student back in 1993, so that was my first taste of Papua New Guinea, and again in 1997 with my wife. In 1999 we came just to relieve a doctor but it was then that we decided to come back to Kompiam and we’ve been here effectively since 2000.

Is this a long-term commitment or do you have an end date?

No, we’ve never had an end date. We just take each year as it comes. We could finish tomorrow or they could bury us here. I don’t know.

 

Are you raising children here?

Oh yes. Goodness, I’ve lost count. We’ve got four of our own, but we tend to share PNG-style. We have a lot of extras that live in the house with us. I think we’re 11 at the moment.

 

You do ‘patrols’ where you visit the field health centres and aid posts, combining trekking and flying. How often do you do these?

It depends a lot on how well staffed we are. If we have enough doctors, then one of us should be out every month or two. For MAF flights, we spend what we have and work within our limit. But if we had more funding, our operations would be completely different because MAF would bring in patients all the time, we would patrol whenever we needed it, and bring in an aircraft any time. We have to say no to people continuously. We’ll take the emergencies we can do. So we’re operating in first gear if you like. If the support was there, we might get to second or third gear.

In PNG you’re still just putting the foundations down. You’re not even close to standing the frames up and putting the roof on in terms of a health service. It’s very rudimentary. Aircraft is not the entire answer, but if we had more funding, we’d certainly be able to get a lot further. It’s just the nature of PNG.

 

How many deliveries do you do at the hospital here?

We deliver about 200 here a year. There are about 1600 deliveries a year in the bush, so you get some idea of the imbalance. Some die. We have no data, but we know they’re out there because when we patrol, we hear the stories of women who have died in childbirth.

 

What would you say has been one of the greatest joys of this work for you? 


It’s hard to distill it. The joys and the frustrations happen every day together. But if you can bring someone out of the bush who’s in obstructed labor, or in terrible pain and you can deliver that baby, for instance, that’s a very satisfying thing.

 

Also to be involved with the community, to sort out their issues, like today. We’re going onto the backside of the mountain to try and sort out this tribal fighting. To be part of a community in such an intimate way that you’re really involved in the machinations of what makes the community tick, for better or for worse – that’s a very privileged position to be in. There’s a deep satisfaction that this is what we’re meant to be doing.

 

What about challenges, hardships?

This is truly an ungoverned area in the sense that there’s no government, no police, no administration of any kind. And you have to work at a village level. If someone decides they want to break in here and steal, no one is going to stop him. So dealing with the community on that level without having any government structure around you was quite a foreign thing for us.

It also gets a bit lonely at times. We have very good friendships with the people here, but to be able to speak your own language, to have that relaxed style of conversation that you would be sitting over a coffee with someone – that we miss a bit. The people hold you with such high respect here, there’s not that level of intimacy that comes from having a conversation on the same level as just another human being, rather than one of the bosses. We miss that. That’s a level of friendship that’s quite important.

 

Tell me about the tribal fighting that is currently happening. Is it affecting the hospital?

This group here at Kompiam is fighting with the guys on the back of this mountain. So you have a situation where the people who get shot from here can come to the hospital, but the ones over there can’t come because this is enemy territory. So they start to get frustrated and say it’s not fair. ‘You guys are getting services and we’re not.’ So the response to that is they come and destroy the hospital. Then everyone is on the same playing field.

Those types of threats have started to emerge in the last 24 hours or so. We’re going to go there today and say we’ll try to help you guys as much as we can. (Since this interview the fighting has calmed down, according to Dr. Mills.)  

 

How does MAF support your work here?

Right now we’re building accommodation for one of our health workers at Megau. We’ve flown in a kit house – two runs and we’re nearly finished. MAF has flown it all. Materials, everything.

Our health centers are spread out all over and they are connected by air. There’s no road network beyond Kompiam so you either fly or walk. To get a patient out they have to construct some sort of a stretcher and then carry the person which may take up to three days in some cases. Or they get them to an airstrip then get on the radio and organize a flight.

MAF is the only one that does that here. In this part of the world, it’s either walking or MAF. So without MAF, basically there’s no way for those women or surgical patients to get help. It’s critical.

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I asked a patient whom Dr. Mills was attending to about the value of the hospital. Akalianda was shot in a tribal fight at Lapalama and flew with MAF to Kompiam Hospital. He is paralyzed and will likely not walk again.

Akalianda: If this hospital wouldn’t exist many of us who get wounded in tribal fights or are sick would die. Kompiam hospital and its little health centres they support us. I got seriously shot by a gun but the hospital was there with its staff and they continuously checked day and night and I am alive. We are very thankful for the hospital and health service of Kompiam. I would have died and they would have already buried me. This hospital is a good hospital.