Published on 1st October 2017
…And open for business! Prior to its destruction in 1988 during the Bougainville Crisis, the Arawa School of Nursing was known for producing some of the best-registered nurses in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
After the School closed, anyone wanting to become a nurse had to travel outside of Bougainville, and they seldom returned home to work once they were qualified.
By 2016 not only was there a serious shortage of nurses in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB), but the existing registered nurse workforce was close to, or even past, retiring age.
The determination of two local health professionals, Celyn Tusalah and Dr Joe Vilosi, to improve health care for the people of ARoB led to the reopening of the Arawa School of Nursing on February 29, 2016. Celyn, who had previous experience as a Nursing Lecturer, became the Director of the School, with support from long-time colleague Joe, a Medical Officer at the Arawa Health Centre. Both were working in Arawa prior to and during the Crisis. Celyn later left Arawa to further her education and work with the ARoB Department of Health, while Joe continued as a Medical Officer in ARoB.
Celyn wanted to open a school that would offer a Diploma in General Nursing, leading to registration with the Nursing Council of Papua New Guinea. She and Joe had a commitment to training local people, versed in local customs, beliefs and languages, who would have a personal, in-depth understanding of health needs in AROB. Yet there was no Government funding available. With the money Celyn was able to scrape together, the School reopened with a single classroom. This is situated on the ground floor of a small house in central Arawa. The building also serves as a small office for the other two nurses who started teaching in the programme – and as Celyn’s home. Forty students joined the pioneer Diploma of Nursing class, and started their journey to becoming registered nurses.
Eighteen months later, the School is gathering momentum. At the start of 2017 the original students, now in Year Two, were joined by another 35 Year One students. A two-year Community Health Worker programme has also been started, and graduates of that programme will eventually work in the rural health centres and aid posts. Interest in the programmes is high, with applications far exceeding the places available.
VSA Nursing School Management Adviser, Marian Bland, has been with the School since January 2017, helping Celyn develop the systems and processes that are needed to manage a school with almost 100 students. They have also worked together to develop the School’s own Diploma of Nursing curriculum which has now been approved by the PNG Nursing Council. Marian works with staff helping them plan their teaching, develop assessments, and provides academic support for students.
While work is underway on a purpose-built School of Nursing building and student dormitory, progress has been very slow. Timetabling the three groups of students with just one classroom and a temporary classroom outside on the front lawn can be a bit of a juggling act. Finding qualified teaching staff is a challenge, and establishing a regular funding stream is also a work in progress. Nevertheless, the vision of being able to improve the health of the people of Bougainville is slowly becoming a reality.
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