About the Last Expatriate National Health SecretaryPeter and Jean Rookes came to Papua New Guinea in February 1997, when Peter was appointed as National Health Secretary of the Anglican Health Service.
Here is what they have to say about their work in Papua New Guinea:-
I have always been inspired by the biblical story of God telling Moses that he was chosen to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land. Moses resists and gives God a series of excuses why he is not the most able person to do it, but God is persistent and explains how he is going to support him. Any objective observer would agree with God's assessment, Moses had been uniquely prepared for this task. His real motive was that he didn't want to face up to the challenge. I felt the same way in 1992.
Jean and I were being called by God to work in a developing country, but we had good, well paid jobs and a comfortable suburban lifestyle and we didn't want to give it up. But we also were uniquely prepared: Jean was a teacher and I was a nurse manager; we were both scout leaders and we were both marathon runners - very useful skills in PNG.
We didn't quite understand when our first posting to a Christian country fell through and we were sent to a totally Muslim country, but it was all part of God's plan. When we arrived in Papua New Guinea and saw what we faced, our first reaction was that we had made a terrible mistake and we would return home. Then we remembered that Moses' problems hadn't ended when Pharaoh let the Israelites leave Egypt. In fact, they had only just begun. He repeatedly suffered from frustrations, people turning against him and against God, an occasional sense of futility and a feeling that he had been presented with a no win situation, particularly when he was told that he and his people would have to spend forty years in the wilderness.
I will let Jean pick the story up there:-
As we visited each of the AHS health facilities, I was overcome with despair, compassion and anger at the state of neglect and decay evident everywhere, not just in the state of the buildings but in the low morale and poor work ethic of many of the health workers themselves. After shedding many tears I decided that I could not run away from what I had seen and that I would stand side by side with Peter to work and fight for the rights to health care for the rural poor in PNG.
I felt that I could be of most use by using my teaching skills and teaching experience which lead to the creation of the village health promotion programme aimed at motivating and facilitating rural communities in healthy living. As the PNG literacy rate is only 42%, compiling teaching materials was both challenging and rewarding, relying heavily on iconographic representations and participatory learning strategies.
Working in PNG is difficult and frustrating as the infrastructure is eroding year by year, health statistics are worsening, the literacy rate is slow to improve and poverty is increasing, especially evident in rural areas, where 85% of the population are living. But the needs of the poor are great and they often have no voice.
In our small way we are encouraging our health workers to see the needs of the rural poor as their priority. to take services to them and to facilitate them in helping themselves through our village health volunteer programmes. Progress is slow but if we can cope with the setbacks we do begin to see some small improvements. Everything here is slow and it is important not to expect too much too soon.
We ask for your support and prayers in what we do.
Peter previously worked for 10 years as Director of Nursing for the Central Birmingham Health Authority in the UK and Jean as a teacher in the inner city of Birmingham. They have four grown up children, two of whom live in the UK, one in Christchurch, New Zealand and one in New York, USA. After their children had left home they decided to work in a developing country and studied for the Award in Mission at the College of the Ascension, Selly Oak. After their initial posting failed to materialise, in 1993 they ended up with Voluntary Service Overseas in the Republic of Maldives, which is a totally Islamic country. Peter worked as a Nurse Educator and coordinated the writing of a new curriculum for Community Health Worker training. Jean worked as an English Language and Communications Teacher and wrote new curricula in these topics. In 1996 they both studied for their Masters' degrees: Jean studied Teaching English for Specific Purposes at Birmingham University and Peter studied Public Health at Liverpool. Both Peter and Jean are scout leaders. Peter is now Provincial Commissioner for Oro Province and Jean is Provincial Leader Trainer.