Four years after the first plans were laid, MAF pilots are now based in Balimo, after MAF Technologies provided the last steppingstone and installed economical and reliable solar power systems.
Story by Sean Atkins. Photos by Julian Wolf, Kowara Bell & Joy Suarkia.
MAF Technologies also supported communication links for the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Sustainable Development Program (SDP) Balimo Hub by installing an HF radio system.
“Nobody goes to rural communities to provide technology services like we do. We are enabling SDP and MAF aviation to do what they do best by providing a more effective HF radio communication system that enables the Health Patrol Officers to deliver proper health care to the remote communities within the Western Province,” said MAF Technologies General Manager Bryan Mathews.
Reliable power and good communications have made it a lot easier for the two MAF pilots and their young families to settle in quickly. The move will further strengthen the MAF-SDP partnership and will considerably streamline aviation services. This will ensure consistent support for SDP’s expanding education, agribusiness, and health projects.
MAF Pilot Joel Rominger said operating from Balimo, rather than making the long journey from Mount Hagen, will boost MAF’s ability to fly SDP’s ten health patrol teams to around 50 airstrip communities. At the personal level, it has also given his family the opportunity to get to know people in the region.
“Being based in Balimo means that MAF can be more flexible, efficient and responsive; taking off early, rather than waiting for the Hagen Mountain weather to clear, so that we can get to remote Western Province communities in a short amount of time, to help provide the services that they need,” he said.
“We would also have more time to connect with the communities which will help us identify where other needs exist.”
SDP is having a significant impact around Western Province, supporting long-term initiatives that will improve health and economic opportunities for future generations.
The SDP Health patrols are an important part of SDP’s work, with a focus on providing primary health care, health worker training, medical supplies and hygiene education to isolated communities that are only accessible by air. SDP Health Administration Manager Ross Baibuni said the service allows far greater access with MAF’s aviation support.
“If we could not fly into the remote places with difficult access, we wouldn’t be able to deliver regular health services that drive change. MAF also helps us by dropping maintenance supplies for airstrip remediation, thus it is a highly successful partnership. This is a partnership where two very different organisations bring their considerable strengths together, to create impact,” he said.
SDP Health General Manager Juddy Aoae recalled the desperate case of a young mother affected by malaria, which is a big threat in this part of PNG.
“I was out on patrol at a remote community and happened to come across a mother and her three children who were very ill in a critical condition and in need of medical assistance. I asked our health team to conduct a malaria test and all four tested positive. They would have died if we hadn’t arrived on our regular 6 weekly patrol," Juddy said.
SDP is continuing to build more homes at the SDP Balimo Hub to provide staff housing for their multiple initiatives. The Balimo College is also based at the Hub which includes a FODE program and a Teacher’s College with further plans afoot.