An eight-hour walk to school and back may seem long to some people, but it’s a journey happily taken by Theresa Sara.
For eight years Theresa has been a village health volunteer on the Kokoda Track. She works with people in the Kokoda catchment area and assists health workers with Maternal and Child Health patrols providing antenatal, immunisation, family planning and general health clinic services.
The 36-year-old from Gorari Village is passionate about strengthening her communities by keeping them healthy.
Her ambition is to one day be certified as a midwife, which means she needs to attend nursing college.
But to qualify Theresa would need a grade 12 certificate that she never had a proper chance to attain.
“I never got to sit for my grade ten exams as personal circumstances forced me to withdraw,” she said.
“I stayed home, got married and started as a Village Health Volunteer with the Kokoda Initiative. I never thought I would be given a second chance to complete my studies, but now look where I am.”
After nearly two decades outside the formal education system, Theresa was given a major boost last year when she was one of 14 people presented with an opportunity to undertake a grade 10 course.
It is part of Kokoda Track Foundation’s (KTF) Flexible, Open and Distance Education program at Kokoda College, which caters to people who – like Theresa – want to advance themselves while also meeting other obligations. Training for local teachers and health workers commenced in 2019.
Scholarship places were supported by the Kokoda Initiative – a partnership between Papua New Guinea and Australia to work with communities to improve health and education outcomes along the Track corridor and support the economic empowerment of local people.
Theresa was engaged as a village health volunteer through the Kokoda Initiative, a role that gave her the chance to demonstrate her passion, commitment and potential.
“I was so pleased when I heard that I was a selected to attend Kokoda College,” she said.
“It’s a real privilege as a Village Health Volunteer to attend this course to broaden my skills in promoting health.”
Theresa said the lack of proper health awareness in rural communities motivated her to become a strong advocate for improved health information.
She is determined to make the most of her second chance at education and wants to use her knowledge to give back to the people.
“I’ve gained a lot and understand some aspects which I’ve been lacking,” she continued.
“In my role, I was mostly concerned about prevention and medication, but now my mind is broadened and I know we need to care for our vegetation and environment as well.”
Students are selected from multiple regions in Northern and Central Provinces, along the Kokoda Track.
Innovative approaches have been taken to deliver learning to people in hard to reach communities. Students have made use of tablets to electronically complete lessons and submit assignments from home.
Kokoda College Principal Enosh Ben said the partnership between KTF and the Kokoda Initiative is a real opportunity for locals along the Track to further their education and open doors to new possibilities.
“We are a centre of excellence for the training of elementary teachers and community health professionals,” he said.
“Our courses upskill students and also helps them to engage their families and communities with safe, healthy behaviours. They receive expert guidance from the on-site teachers, rotational access to classes and tutorials, and digital resources using tablet technology to complement the curriculum.”
While Theresa’s hard work was vindicated with the award of a grade 10 certificate, this year she is looking to build on her success by studying grade 11 courses. Joining her will be 39 other students supported with PNG-Australia Partnership scholarships, including 12 of her peers from 2019
“After completing my grade 11 and 12 courses at Kokoda College I want to study at nursing college – that is another challenge I am yet to face,” Theresa said.
“Seeing mothers in my community having complications during labour and birthing – and with the skills I acquired during my time as a village health volunteer – I know this is what I want to do.”
Feature Pic: Village health volunteer Theresa Sara and her peers sit for a flexible, open and distance test in Kokoda.