BOAKURE VILLAGE, Papua New Guinea — Residents here vividly remember the day in November 2004 when their lives were drastically altered. That morning an explosion heralded a cascade of ashes, birds lay dead on the ground, and trees were stripped bare.
“It felt very scary to see the stones falling and the ash belching,” said Judith Aiere, 55, a former resident of Manam Island where the incident took place. “We ran around looking for radios so we could contact emergency workers for help.”
As islanders sought shelter from harm, they realized they were merely exiting one danger zone and entering directly into another as ashes and debris destroyed village after village. Even those who took cover in caves weren’t safe.
All of this was the result of a volcanic eruption that forced the roughly 10,000 inhabitants of Manam Island to evacuate, never to return. Many of those who survived the disaster were resettled in Boakure village, where YWAM volunteers serving aboard the m/v PACIFIC LINK conducted primary-health, vaccination and eye-exam clinics in March. The former islanders say their lives have not returned to the level of quality they once enjoyed — including in the category of health care.
Kenny Paissi, who helped coordinate the evacuation from Manam Island, said the clinics conducted by YWAM volunteers was a rare instance of outside help coming to the village.
“Not a single team has visited us like the team now,” said Paissi, who escaped the island with his wife and seven children, including a one-month old. “I can only remember a group coming to give immunizations to very small children but not primary health care and eye specialists.”
A clinic located within 2 kilometers of the village offers free immunizations, but charges for all other services. That is an obstacle for many residents who have never been able to find steady enough work to afford health care. On Manam Island, residents lived off of the land. They had taro, sweet potato and banana crops. Fish were also abundant off the coast of the island, locals say. Residents were more easily able to afford medicine on Manam because their overall cost of living was so low. And, most people rarely got sick because of their lifestyles, including a steady diet of fruit and vegetables. None of those advantages exist in Boakure, making health care a more desperate need, residents say.
But one luxury Boakure villagers didn’t even have on the island is eye care. Aiere, a women’s-affairs representative for the local level government, said she would have virtually no hope of having her blurred vision relieved if opticians hadn’t come with YWAM.
“I have eye problems, but can’t afford to do anything about it. So it’s great that an eye clinic is here,” said Aiere, who escaped the volcanic eruption with her husband and two children. “Your coming is very important to us.”