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Originally produced for UNICEF


Albert Simon, Ward Recorder, Yo’o Ward, Esa’ala District, Milne Bay Province

We went through the “Colour My House” exercise in January 2001. When they saw the colour of their houses everyone was shocked. They said, “I thought everything was fine in my house, but look! My house is red!”

We posted all the results on a board and counted our problems:

None of our children under 5 years (or any children!) had birth certificates and no one was using iodized salt, or treated bed nets, or safe drinking water or sanitary latrines.

We analysed these problems and developed several projects. For example, we created a master-list of all the children and women in the Ward who needed immunizations and took this to our local health centre. All the families began using iodized salt. No one in Yo’o understood before why this was so important. All the pregnant women and new mothers began attending pre-natal or post-natal clinics.

Many children were malnourished. One boy was very badly affected but his mother didn’t see it. During the “colour my house” process, she had marked the window for healthy growth with green. We talked with her and discovered that she had adopted a one month old girl when her son was still only four months old. There was competition for her breastmilk and attention, and while the adopted girl thrived, her son had become malnourished, especially because he did not receive complementary foods at the right time. By the age of one he was listless, unable to stand and had not uttered a single syllable. Yet the mother didn’t notice. She thought that it was something inside the child that made him this way.

We tried to help the family and urged them to give more nutritious food to the child, to give him mashed sweet potato cooked in coconut milk with the leaves. But it was hard to find the words that would help the parents understand and also discouraging to see the child becoming weaker.

We take some steps forward and some steps back. We need education in the village to help families understand about many issues including nutrition and sanitation, but not everyone can go at the same pace. Just because we see the problem does not mean we can fix it immediately.

Noah Gibson, Ward Member, Weyoko Ward, Duau Local Level Government, Esa’ala District

We are rich in many things in Weyoko. It is a place of sea and land, of many fish and good crops, but it is also a place of mosquitos, of sorcery and of traditional taboos and restrictions. Because of these things we have many problems in our community. Some of these we can solve by ourselves but with some we need help. When we went through the Colour My House activity, among other problems we found that 38 children in our community were malnourished. We talked about what kind of action we should take. Several families planted kitchen gardens so that they would have good food closer to their homes. But we met with resistance from some people when we tried to confront the food taboos. The old people said, “We brought you up this way so who are you to tell us what to do.” We keep on trying but it takes time to change the way things have always been.

Bernard Jorimbi, Ward Member, Atemble Ward, Middle Ramu District,

No one in Atemble had a latrine. After we went through the Colour My House process we wanted to do something about this. As the Ward Member and Vice President of Arabaca Local Level Government I was able to go an see the demonstration latrine that was put up for the Pacific Islands meeting on “Healthy Islands.” The latrine had a cement or fibre-glass top that cost more than 200 Kina (about $70) and could only be purchased in Moresby or Lae or some other big town. There was no possibility that people in our village could afford such a latrine cover or find ways of transporting it to their homes. In Atemble, we came up with our own solution. Using a piece of a canoe, we constructed a cover with a close fitting lid. It wasn’t as high quality as the “Healthy Islands” latrine but it was affordable, it was made of bush materials and it was something the people could do by themselves without any help.

But we had other problems because when we dug our first latrine, the soft riverbank soil kept falling in to the hole. We solved this by lining the hole with bamboo poles lashed together in a cone shape. We also raised the latrine so that it would be less vulnerable to the floods which are very common.

We constructed two pikinini skel hauses, started regular weighing of all children, enrolled all women in ante-natal care and are now able to test salt for iodine right in the village. We had some problems with the treated bed nets because people thought that the nets would actually kill the mosquitos. In the morning, they expected to find the floor covered with them and when this didn’t happen the rumour spread that the treated nets are no good. We are now watching and counting how many children get sick with malaria in the homes that do have the treated nets and in the homes that don’t.