Bringing clean water and combatting negative messages about the COVID-19 vaccine

Jun 21, 2021

Cassendra Opiari works as the Disaster Risk Reduction Officer for Anglicare PNG under the Church Partnership Program. She joined Anglicare in April, 2019 after doing a part-time job at the University of PNG for a year and a half (straight after graduating from university).

Working with Anglicare PNG has enabled Cassendra to see the importance of the service of the church and the role church agencies play in Papua New Guinea, especially in the rural areas.

This report from Anglicare Papua New Guinea’s Cassendra Opiari tells of the excellent work of Anglicare and volunteers in distributing rainwater tanks and handwashing stations in a remote part of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea’s New Guinea Islands Diocese. But it is work that faces challenges in addressing misunderstandings and fears about COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 is threatening lives and livelihoods in some of Papua New Guinea’s most vulnerable communities. But with the support of Australian Government’s Australian Humanitarian Partnership, Anglicare PNG is working alongside community leaders to help protect families against the threat of the pandemic.

Recently, Anglicare installed nine 5000 litre Tuffa rainwater tanks and 32 handwashing facilities in the Kandrian-Gloucester District in the South of West New Britain Province. This is an area which lacks access to clean water for handwashing, drinking and cooking, and hence this area was a priority.

Local volunteers transported the tanks through difficult terrain to install them. They also distributed the handwashing buckets and informed communities about the importance of handwashing, good health and basic measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The local village chief at Wasum was one of many who appreciated the assistance. He commented that the Tuffa tank installed in his community (next to the Koporuo Anglican Church) had freed women and girls in his community from having to paddle up the river channel to collect clean water for their households. It would also enable his village to observe the COVID-19 protocols.

During discussions held with communities at the time of installing the tanks, the Anglicare team discovered that myths about COVID-19 were still rife, in spite of earlier awareness sessions carried out previously by Anglicare. Rumours spread by social media about the (rare but serious) side effects of the AstraZeneca Vaccine have added more fear to the community.

As NGI project team leader Albert Aisim commented, “Most people in rural communities are still uninformed, and can easily be misled. Myths travel faster than factual information”.

An example of this was when the Anglicare team learnt that the local Anglican parish had rejected a planned delivery of the Astra Zeneca vaccine to Sagsag Health Centre. The West New Britain Provincial Health Authority had distributed COVID-19 vaccines to the main health centre at Gloucester station, but the Sagsag parish had insisted on getting accurate information before they will administer the vaccine in their parish.

Albert Aisim has therefore called for more awareness raising to reach all villages.

ABM asks for your prayers as Anglicare, the Anglican Church and local volunteers continue to work hard to raise awareness of the facts and combat the reluctance of many to administer and receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

ABM’s COVID-19 Emergency Responses in Papua New Guinea are implemented by the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea and Anglicare PNG. Anglicare PNG receives support from the Australian Government through the Australian Humanitarian Program COVID-19 Response Project via the Church Agency Network Disaster Operations (CAN DO), and the Papua New Guinea–Australia Partnership.