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Kundiawa opens its Family Support Centre

15 October 2009

Little did Sister OpaTugo know that her perfunctory remarks to a challenge after a two-day workshop on child protection in August of 2007 would trigger a chain of events leading to the establishment of a Family Support Centre (FSC) at the Kundiawa Hospital.

The Kundiawa Hospital is in Simbu, a highlands region province located in the central cordillera of Papua New Guinea and home to some 300,000 people.

When Sr. Opa was challenged by UNICEF’s Child Protection Specialist, Bruce Grant, after the workshop in August 2007 to swear that by the end of the year she would have an FSC opened in her hospital, she replied in the affirmative without a moment’s hesitation.

“Without giving serious consideration and to avoid further conversation, I answered yes, of course, to Bruce’s challenges “,  Sr. Opa laughs as she recalls.

On November 28, 2008, 15 months after the August 2007 workshop, Sr Opa, then the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Kundiawa Hospital, beaming with pride, stood in front of a large crowd in the hospital grounds to witness the official opening of the FSC.

The FSC is a safe haven for women and children who experience family violence. It is a ‘one-stop shop’ coordination and support service, providing women and children survivors of violence with psychosocial, paralegal and case management support and medical services.

When Sr. Opa sold the FSC idea to her hospital Board, it was met with great enthusiasm and that set in motion some groundwork orchestrated by the Simbu Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee (FSVAC) and CIMC to establish a center. Some funding and technical support from the National FSVAC, UNICEF, UNFPA and AusAID enabled the hospital to complete and fully equip the center with everything it needed.

Kundiawa is among five other hospitals in the country that have responded to a national directive issued in 2007, requiring all provincial hospitals to establish FSCs. This is one response to the situation of violence in the country.

Papua New Guinea has some of the highest rates of violence and abuse anywhere in the world. A UNICEF report (Speaking Out – Voices of Children and Adolescents in East Asia and Pacific, 2001) cite that around 75 per cent of children report physical abuse and around 80 per cent experience verbal abuse. Sixty seven per cent of women report experiencing family violence, and in some remote highlands communities, this figure rises to a staggering 90 per cent.

Although the FSC in Kundiawa officially opened in November, it had been working with survivors of violence since April 2008. When the center first opened in April it would see about five cases a week.

Prior to April, survivors of violence only received medical treatment as no counseling or case management services were available to them. This is the still the case in most hospitals throughout the country.

“Many still traumatized by abuse were patched up here in the hospital and returned, in some cases to the same violence and problems they had just come from,” explains Kirsten Pistel, a social worker and volunteer with the Volunteer Services Overseas attached then to the hospital.

With the establishment of the new center now open 24 hours a day everyday, survivors are educated on their rights and assisted by agencies such as welfare and police. The centre is busy and sees over 40 patients a week as news of this service spreads around the province.

The most important thing, Kirsten reiterates, is that survivors are provided counseling. The center provides a private and confidential setting for survivors to discuss their experiences and feelings and the counseling that is provided is based on an empowerment model.

“A survivor of violence is seen as an expert in her own safety. Together with a counselor, the survivor is assisted in assessing her safety and developing a safety plan. Survivors who do not feel safe returning home are provided with overnight accommodation in one of the Center’s two safe rooms”, Kirsten explains.

The FSC is a center for hope, hope that we will be able to help families break the cycle of violence. But as long as FSCs exist, they should also serve as a constant reminder that violence issues still need to be addressed.



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