Apr 15, 2021

Mourning and Honoring the Legacy of a Board Member

Mal Kela Smith In Suowi Valley Christmas Eve 2010
Mal Kela Smith In Suowi Valley Christmas Eve 2010

One of our founding Board Members, the Honorable Mal 'Kela' Smith, has died from complications of COVID-19. This unfortunate turn of events has taken our community by surprise--all who knew Mal would attest to his air of indestructibility. 

An aviator and consummate businessman, Mal was a naturalized citizen of Papua New Guinea, having arrived in the Eastern Highlands in 1969. While aviation was a personal passion and his main business, Mal started a variety of other successful businesses and ventured into politics in the 1990s. Serving two terms as Governor of Eastern Highlands Province, Mal championed anti-corruption initiatives and applied the principles of efficient business management to government. 

While he was a no-nonsense character, Mal loved Papua New Guinea deeply and inspired the same in many of us. Though his first love was for the wildlife and forests, it was apparent that the people of Papua New Guinea ruled Mal's heart. He never turned down an opportunity to catalyze something that would benefit the people of PNG, including accepting the role as one of the founding members of the Indigenous Health Solutions Board of Directors. Before IHS was formed to serve as a vehicle for the Ankave Ikundi of Suowi Valley and similar communities, a group of people from diverse backgrounds had come together to see what could be done to spark inclusive development in Suowi Valley after a pronounced El Niño in 2010 led to a famine there. 

When Mal heard about the famine and that emergency food rations were available but three day's walk away from Suowi Valley, he did not hesitate to take action. At the time, the Ankave Ikundi people had not completed the airstrip there, which they built by hand over the course of years. That did not concern Mal the aviator. With Nicole Demosky, also a pilot and founding member of the IHS board, as his co-pilot, Mal flew a helicopter on Christmas Eve to deliver the emergency food rations to Suowi Valley. That event sparked our trans-disciplinary effort to promote inclusive development there. The two reprised their 2010 role early this year; Mal and Nicole facilitated the medevac of an Ankave Ikundi woman at risk of dying from childbirth complications. She and her new son are alive and well today. 

In December, the first person from Suowi Valley graduated from High School, and this year Indigenous Health Solutions has again sponsored the school fees for every secondary school student from the community, at least one of whom is at the top of his class in every subject. This was the kind of progress Mal craved, praised, and cultivated. May his legacy live on to inspire us all for generations to come.  

Nicole Demosky and Mal Kela Smith, Board Members
Nicole Demosky and Mal Kela Smith, Board Members
Unloading famine relief supplies from helicopter
Unloading famine relief supplies from helicopter

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Oct 24, 2020

Community organizing primary school revitalization

Gerson, soon a graduate, top middle of classmates
Gerson, soon a graduate, top middle of classmates

We are celebrating a momentous occasion! Very soon, one of the first youths from Ikundi to graduate from high school will be receiving his diploma. Gerson is one of the students whose school fees have been sponsored by Indigenous Health Solutions this year, and we are thrilled about the accomplishments of this young man. If things go well, each year we will be celebrating more and more high school graduations for Ankave Ikundi-ku students, and soon thereafter, we will celebrate their successes in medicine, conservation biology, education and other skill sets that could be transformative for their home communities. 

In other news from the hamlet, there has been an election held successfully this quarter, and the new Councillor is working closely with the Aid Post Committee and the Nurse serving in the Indigenous Health Solutions/Eastern Highlands Health Center, Joel. IHS has provided tools, and the group has organized weekly clean-ups for the airstrip and the area around what once was the primary school. This cooperation is a wonderful display of support for inclusive development as well as for the common good. Having the airstrip groomed, for example, is critical to assuring that charter flights can land on that steep, treacherous airstrip as safely as possible. This enables emergency evacuations and regular services alike. 

In terms of the effect of the pandemic, we are thrilled to report that there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in or near Ikundi. In recent days, however, there have been a handful of cases diagnosed in Papua New Guinea, many in the provincial capitals closest to Suowi Valley where Ikundi is nestled. We have been working to assure that awareness of the dangers of travel and close contact are clear among the Ankave Ikundi-ku. Relatives of the high school graduate have been advised not to travel for the graduation ceremony, for example. Please note also that the photo of the students was taken earlier in the year before COVID-19 became pandemic. 

Especially now, we are supremely grateful for your continuing support. In a time when there is so much more suffering and need all over the world, it is humbling to see your commitment to continuing support for efforts like Indigenous Health Solutions. 

Cleaning up around the primary school
Cleaning up around the primary school

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Jun 25, 2020

A year of educational support for every student

Some students supported for this school year
Some students supported for this school year

Nearly ten years ago, a major step was taken to make education free in Papua New Guinea. While this has been a tremendous boon for citizens of PNG, the cash required for ancillary costs of education such as project fees or uniforms still represents a big obstacle for learners. Room and board for students from rural areas is an additional concern, one that is particularly challenging for girls and for children from families living in extreme poverty. 

The school year began in January and will end in December. For 2020, Indigenous Health Solutions has sponsored every student from Ikundi studying in grades 5 through 12. All of these students must study at schools in towns far from the Suowi Valley, where there is no secondary school. The hope is that as time goes on, more students can complete 11th and 12th grade, and more girls will be able to start and stay in school. Supporting the development of a generation that has more formal education is one strategy in striving for the inclusive, environmentally harmonious development of Suowi Valley.

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic put the year of schooling at risk for these students. Thankfully, however, the caseload of COVID-19 has remained small in PNG, and the schools reopened after an initial three-week closure. 

In addition to promoting the schooling of the students currently in higher grades, IHS continues to operate the solar Ikundi Health Center in partnership with Eastern Highlands Provincial Health Authority. The village midwives trained by IHS continue to support birthing women in the community and liaise with the Health Center In-charge, Joel. 

Low-fuel, low-emission cookstoves continue to become familiar, albeit with uneven enthusiasm. One consistent piece of feedback from users of the rocket stoves is that they are very good quality and need very little wood to do a lot of cooking. These are very positive perceptions that may spread. When it becomes safer to bring the Rural Outreach Team for a ten-day health camp, more families will be eligible to receive rocket stoves. Greater saturation may drive habituation and uptake of use. 

The procurement of a solar vaccine refrigerator has yet to occur; the conditions of the pandemic have underscored the urgency of the plan. Currently, vaccine campaigns are behind schedule due to travel restrictions, leaving young children unvaccinated and vulnerable. 

The Indigenous Health Solutions team would like to extend our most sincere thanks to all of you for your continued care and support. In this time when every human is being confronted with difficult realities of intersecting health and societal pressures, it means so much to us that you have not chosen to look away from this remote group of our human family. 

An Ankave mother with future students
An Ankave mother with future students
A household in the hamlet
A household in the hamlet

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