Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea

by Indigenous Health Solutions, Inc.
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
Protect forest & 100 families in Papua New Guinea
A boy and a bird of prey relax together
A boy and a bird of prey relax together

Recently, we were taken by a short piece by authors Erika Arteaga-Cruz and Juan Cuvi, who wrote in The Lancet about health systems that are based in other world views. Their thoughts sounded so familiar to us, so similar to the mission of Indigenous Health Solutions. Coming from their point of view in Ecuador, where there are multiple, rich indigenous cultures, we felt they echoed the essence of Indigenous Health Solutions when they referred to "health as a collective right and as a responsibility to the Earth." Shortly after that, we were privileged to become a signatory to the São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health, led by the Planetary Health Alliance, UNDP, and the University of São Paulo. It was launched on October 6th, with the endorsement of over 260 organizations from 47 countries, representing 19 sectors of society.

A pioneering document of the global planetary health movement, the declaration describes the actions needed to achieve "the great transition: a just transformation to a world that optimizes the health and all people and the planet's well-being." From our inception, we have championed this inclusive approach and the conception that human health is inextricably intertwined with the health of our planet. As such, this global consolidation of support for these ideas and specific approach has inspired us to do more to verify that our work benefits this expansive concept of health.

Suowi Valley, the setting of our current work, is a place of pristine tropical rain forests and untold biodiversity. The catalytic events that led to the foundation of Indigenous Health Solutions were in fact sparked by reports from conservation biologists tracking rare cassowaries there, who came across the people starving and ill from malnutrition during a crop-killing, El Niño-driven drought. Given the climate crisis, the noted changes in rainfall, temperature, and wildlife, we want to take stock of the biodiversity in Suowi Valley and monitor it over time. This kind of survey has always been desirable, but completely out of reach due to the length of time needed and expense of traditional forest and wildlife surveys.  In recent years, however, evidence has been building for a new way of thinking about this type of biodiversity survey exercise, ecoacoustics; some learnings have even come from projects in Papua New Guinea. By taking high-quality recordings of ambient sound in different places around Suowi Valley, the soundscape can be analyzed and changes in the forest over time can be identified by comparing soundscapes from different years.

We plan to undertake the Suowi Valley baseline soundscape project in 2022, and repeat it every three to five years in order to monitor the impact of climate change and human influence on the tropical forest. Together with our clean cooking, health clinic, village midwifery, and education initiatives, this soundscape, together with strong community leadership, will help steer our current and future programming to further support planetary health. Thank you, as always, for supporting the protection and preservation of indigenous peoples, their cultures, and the environment that sustains them. This act acknowledges that we are all interconnected and that surviving and thriving is collective.

Ankave traditional dress links people and place
Ankave traditional dress links people and place
The Sao Paulo Declaration was launched in October
The Sao Paulo Declaration was launched in October

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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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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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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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prosperity and health for the next generation!
prosperity and health for the next generation!

We are looking forward to 2020 In Suowi Valley, and would like to share some of our aspirations with you. Despite ongoing grave challenges presented by the extreme rugged and remote location where the Ankave live, with your help, Indigenous Health Solutions has found footing to make small yet important steps towards inclusive development that respects the Earth. 

We need to acquire myriad equipment this year to maintain progress in our integrated development effort, and we are committed to making as much of that equipment solar or otherwise environmentally low impact. Our chief partner in health, the Eastern Highlands Provincial Health Authority, has generously included a solar vaccines refrigerator and ongoing key support, such as essential medicinces, for the Ikundi Health Center in their provincial primary health plan. While facing stark curative, primary and preventative health needs of a mountainous province with a dense population of over one half million people, their commitment to assuring that the extremely remote of PNG are not neglected continues to inspire and humble the rest of us at Indigenous Health Solutions. 

While the health indicators for the Ankave have improved significantly since the beginning of our work in 2011, repiratory illness is still a leading cause of death and serious illness in Suowi Valley. The presence of our functional health clinic is critical, but having supplemental oxygen, particularly for babies and small children suffering from pneumonia, is essential to increased survival and decreased long term injury from respiratory disease. A solar powered oxygen concentrator would primarily benefit seriously ill children, but would also be important for older aldults in Suowi with chronic or acute respiratory illness, a common later life ilness there. A solar powered oxygen concentrator is not inexpensive, but because of its potential impact, we will seek to procure and deploy it to the Ikundi health center. 

While our health workers and other volunteers generally trek to Suowi Valley for three days, carrying heavy loads of provisions across mountain passes, air charters are sometimes necessary. The airstrip, a lifeline to the Suowi Valley, especially in emergency situations, was created by hand over many years. It is well-known among pilots of small aircraft in PNG as one of the most harrowing airstrips on which to land. Bravely, these pilots have not once refused to make a trip there despite the hair-raising incline of the airstrip. However, in order to be as safe as possible, they do require that it is well-groomed. Cutting the vegetation by hand with bush knives is a long and exhausting process, and those leading that chore have requested motorized tools to assist. Rather than acquiring petrol-fueled tools, IHS will pilot battery powered tools that can be recharged with solar panels. 

Education continues to be a major challenge in the catchment area, as there is currently no elementary or secondary schools, and children who travel to towns to enroll can have negative experiences. As health has improved, education is rising on the community priority list, and IHS is listening carefully. We have catalogued every primary and secondary student in the hamlet and are seeking solutions of the right fit for the short and long term to improve the level of literacy and education among the youth.  

Finally, the health of the forest as well as the health of the other non-human life within it will continue to be a grounding feature of our work in Suowi Valley. The changing climate patterns are causing concern there; subsistence gardening was much more difficult last year, but did not fail as in prior years with extended drought and unexpected heavy rains. In an effort to measure the health of the forest in Suowi Valley, we intend to commit to an ongoing acoustic ecology assessment. By recording and analyzing the sounds of the forest recorded in the same place, at the same time of year repeatedly into the future, we intend to assess the health of the forest, and identify any subtle detrimental changes before they are irreversible. 

Thank you for your attention to our aspirations for 2020 and the new decade, and as always, for your unflagging support of this ambitious effort. 

If you haven't yet tried the wild grown specialty Arabica coffee from the wilds of PNG that is available in the gifts section of our website, please consider doing so. The coffee is superb and your purchase serves as a donation to the Suowi Valley work.   

An owlet waits with patients outside the clinic
An owlet waits with patients outside the clinic

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Organization Information

Indigenous Health Solutions, Inc.

Location: Santa Fe, NM - USA
Website:
Twitter: @indigenous_HS
Project Leader:
Sarthak Das
Santa Fe, NM United States
$34,951 raised of $40,000 goal
 
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