Saving lives on a shoestring

By CARE Australia September 26, 2017 11 comments

Tasman and Annie at their CARE-supported health clinic in Papua New Guinea. Image © Howard Ralley/CARE

Husband and wife Tasman and Annie are helping make childbirth safer for women in Papua New Guinea. The health clinic they run together, Barola Haus Mama’s, is combatting the dangerous risks for mothers and babies in the region, where one in 25 women die during pregnancy and childbirth.

Barola Haus Mama’s or Mama’s House is the product of a lifelong dream for Tasman, who, as a boy, watched his mother give birth in the dirt and dust on the roadside.

“I decided right then I wanted to do something about it,” said Tasman.

It’s hard to imagine Tasman as a boy; the large grey wedges of hair on each side of his face that fail to meet in the middle give him an otherworldly look. Like a wise, old man in a duffle coat with the collar turned up.

But he remembers his humble beginnings like they were yesterday.

“Back in my mother and father’s time, they had many, many babies. My mother, Tema, had ten. I was the third child.”

Tasman explained that on the night of his own birth, his mother faced many complications – she had to run for three hours through the night just to reach a basic birthing house. But when she arrived there was no one there. “She was knocking on the door when I was born… she used an old razor blade to cut the umbilical cord.”

Watching his mother go through a similar experience when his youngest brother was born was enough for Tasman to dedicate his life to making life easier for mothers and babies.

He took a job at a medical post as a teenager, cleaning large septic tanks. He quickly advanced to cleaning linen and medical equipment, and eventually learned the basics of supporting women attending the health centre. He signed up for community health training to advance his understanding of maternal health, and finally, with the support of CARE, opened his own maternal health clinic in 2007, which he named Barola Haus Mama’s.

It consists of a perfectly clean space for immunisations, four rooms for consulting patients where everything from health to family planning is discussed, a space for ante and post-natal support, a birthing room, and a small curtained off area at the back where Tasman’s family sleeps.

Tasman explains that educating communities is a vital component of his work – particularly in helping them understand the importance of family planning: “Couples no longer want huge families. This is a good thing. Younger people now prefer smaller families. During my parents’ time, they had no idea about intervals between pregnancies. Many people died. But now, there’s progress!”

Women are encouraged to bring their partners to help men take a more active role in family life. Taboos around pregnancy are still very much alive and well in Papua New Guinea, and many men believe they will lose their strength or develop asthma if they attend the birth or even walk next to their pregnant partner.

“When the man sees his partner giving birth and goes through that process with her, that’s when the husband builds the fullest respect for his wife.”

Barola Haus Mama’s celebrates its tenth year in operation this month, but its financial future has become uncertain as cuts to the Australian Aid budget limit the resources available to Tasman. Without a refrigerator, for example, they’re forced to keep their critical vaccines in an esky in the shadiest part of the building.

Tasman says if the clinic can continue into the future it would be a dream come true. “I’m proud of the legacy we are building,” he said, smiling through his beard with his wife Annie smiling beside him. “The only thing I really want is to hear people say ‘Thank you doctor for helping us’.”

Read more about CARE’s work to improve the health of women and children in Papua New Guinea.

11 Comments Leave new

Wency Feb 13 2019 at 02:02

Tasman and Annie b, you are a solution to a problem in the community long suffered. Only God sees the heart and sends His workmen for a higher calling. Keep doing the good work,

Wency PNG

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Clancy Scanlon-Lewis. Apr 28 2018 at 01:04

Are Tasman and Annie still in need of a refrigerator for their vaccines at their Village Health Care Clinic, Barola Hous Mama's.? My name is Clancy, a Year 9 student at the Manilla Central School in North Western New South Wales. I am completing an assignment on Human WellBeing in Papua New Guinea looking at the health care of Mums going through the pre and postal natal program.

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CARE Australia Apr 30 2018 at 10:04

Hi Clancy, thank you for your interest in this program. We haven’t had recent contact with Tasman and Annie, however if you would like to learn more about the other work we are doing in PNG head here > https://www.care.org.au/country/papua-new-guinea/ All the best with your assignment,CARE Australia

Kirsti Mukwiilongo Oct 06 2017 at 06:10

Congratulations to this great couple on the job well-done. Keep up the good work!

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Amanda Yorke Sep 29 2017 at 12:09

As a child I lived for three years with my family in New Guinea. Although there have been some problems since those days of white paternalism, the people seem to me to be utterly amazing. I'm an old woman now, a retiree on a tiny pension (sorry, Tasman and Annie!), but may your Clinic be blessed and prosper long. God bless you. Amanda

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Roko Sep 29 2017 at 12:09

Thank you Uncle ?

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Anne Masters Sep 28 2017 at 11:09

Great work by Tasman and Annie. Must be supported. Their Mama's house should also serve as a model for other caring and enterprising New Guineans to follow.

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Allan Mosa Sep 28 2017 at 06:09

A hard worker who strife day and night for the good of mother and child. Should be recognized and funded well by government and relevant authorities. A great and humble man and woman.

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Gloria Nema Sep 28 2017 at 02:09

I've known Tasman to be a kind and caring soul and his testimony shows that one man (and his family) really can make a big difference. Thank you so much Tasman and Annie. I hope doors open up for you to continue doing the good work that you do.

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Ian Sep 28 2017 at 09:09

Tasman's perseverance hard work and motivation through personal experience have resulted in the wonderful Mama's House, It would be a tragedy if the cuts to the Australian Aid budget made the future of all that has been achieved lie in jeopardy places like Mama's House should be seen as they are which is totally essential to the future of the people in Papua New Guinea and always be given the highest priority by those who make the decisions on where the aid budget should use its money, I hope that the clinic will thrive and prosper into the future and grow bigger and better. Ian

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Judy Conley Sep 28 2017 at 08:09

Well done to Tasman and Annie. Thank you kindly for your support and caring nature. The world is a better place with Tasman and Annie in it.

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