Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. To mark this day, we are drawing attention to the issue of family violence in Papua New Guinea, and a new national helpline which is providing support to those affected.

In August 2015, ChildFund Papua New launched the first ever national crisis hotline, in partnership with PNG`s Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee and FHI 360. This was in response to the epidemic levels of violence perpetrated against women and children, with an estimated two-thirds of women in PNG experiencing physical or sexual violence during their lifetime.

The hotline is the first service in PNG to have professional counsellors available 12 hours a day, from 7.00am to 7.00pm, providing survivors and their families with a range of support services, including referral to service providers, and personal and confidential counselling at the time of the call.

Due to a severe shortage of trained and qualified counsellors in Papua New Guinea, ChildFund has also been working in partnership with the PNG Counsellors Association (PNGCA) to boost the capacity of the counselling profession as a whole.

Wesh Siku, ChildFund PNG Project Leader, says: “We saw the need for counsellors after establishing the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain Hotline. As this service provides information and support seven days a week, we wanted to make sure that we were able to resource the service effectively and increase the number of qualified counsellors available in PNG.”

Dorothy Kosh, who works for the City Mission and took part in the training, says: “The need to develop the care industry in PNG is paramount. I feel privileged to learn a range of skills through the training, and thank ChildFund and PNGCA for this opportunity. The skills learnt will help us to help others.”

“Having taken part in this training, I now feel confident that we have counsellors who are well-prepared to provide vital guidance on GBV issues for survivors.”

Calls to the hotline are free, and counselling is available in PNG`s three national working languages English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu.

Most recently, 15 counsellors representing different organisations which provide support services for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) took part in an extensive three-month training program. This included staff from four districts in Central Province, three from City Mission, two from the Joyce Training Institute and six social work graduates from the University of Papua New Guinea.

At the close of the training program, PNGCA President Susan Setae encouraged all participants to apply what they had learned: “Do not go back and shelve your skills. You have to start helping, supporting and comforting others. You have to practice what you have learnt. That is how you will grow.”

The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is a partnership between ChildFund Papua New Guinea, CIMC (FSVAC) and FHI 360, supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme, USAID, ChildFund New Zealand and ChildFund Australia. 

As the Sponsorship Coordinator for Vietnam and Cambodia, and one of ChildFund Australia`s longest serving staff members, Sue Mandelik has been dedicated to helping children in need over the last 16 years. She has also made an incredible impact on the life of 17-year-old Thom from Bach Thong District in Vietnam.

Sue began sponsoring in December 1999, when Thom was 18 months old. “I decided to sponsor Thom as she was the same age as my daughter Jacinta, and I had learnt a lot about Vietnam and the needs of children through my work. I also wanted to be able to explain first-hand to other supporters about the benefits of sponsorship and share my experiences with them,” she explains.

Sue managed to visit Thom twice throughout her sponsorship, with her initial meeting taking place in 2002.

“Meeting Thom and her family for the first time was such a great experience. I was surprised at how little they had in terms of facilities and infrastructure, and could really understand why ChildFund Vietnam decided to work with children in need and families in Bach Thong. It was so eye-opening, while also exciting and emotional,” explains Sue.

The second time she visited Thom in Vietnam, Sue`s husband Ivan and daughter Jacinta joined her. “It was good to see how Thom`s community had improved since my last visit, and for Jacinta to learn about life outside Australia. I could tell Jacinta understood the needs of children, as when we returned to Sydney, she wanted to send all of her belongings, such as clothes and toys, over to Thom. It was really sweet,” says Sue.

Over the years, Sue continued to write and send photos to Thom. Today, she still keeps all of her letters and Child Progress Reports in an album. She often looks at them and thinks about how fast time has passed, and how much Thom has grown.

At the end of last year, Thom graduated from the sponsorship program. As a ChildFund Vietnam sponsor child, Thom’s community also benefited. It managed to achieve all of its development goals. Sue is delighted that Thom`s community is self-sufficient, and Thom well-equipped for her adult life ahead.

Reflecting back on her experience supporting a child in need, Sue is most proud about having supported not only Thom`s education and health, but that of many children in her community. For instance, every school in Thom`s commune now has safe water and hygienic bathrooms. When Sue began sponsoring Thom, not a single school had these facilities.

Reading Thom`s final letter, Sue can`t help but feel incredibly honoured to have contributed to Thom, Bach Thong, and ChildFund Vietnam`s achievements.

“To me, our memories are unforgettable,” says Thom. For Sue, their memories are unforgettable too.