A heart for the people

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday, May 13, 2011

SISTER Rose Bernard arrived in PNG in 1964 and was based at Banz teaching Grade 3 at St Anselm where her work included educating the parents so they were would encourage their children to attend school.
Later on she was appointed headmistress of St Edward Primary School at Ambang, in Western Highlands.
Recognising the need to provide health services she established a clinic and encouraged the parents and community to send their children to the school and build a classroom every year, a library and organised in-service training days for teachers.
In 1968 as headmistress of St Elizabeth Primary School, Sr Rose relocated the school from the hilltop location down to a new site near the Highlands Highway where, under her guidance permanent classrooms, teachers houses and a medical clinic were built.
As demand for education grew, she was assigned to Notre Dame High School where she taught religious studies, agriculture, English for the 250 young women and established the foundation programme for young women desiring to enter the congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
Together with other sister members she organised what is known as the Maira vocational centre for girls who had completed Grade 6 but were not eligible for high school, to further their education and equip them to return home to their respective village they were taught “daily living” skills. 
This eventually resulted in the opening of the Maria Kwin Centre at Banz where a three-year course was offered in agriculture, animal husbandry, Tok Pisin, English, mathematics, sewing and cooking.   The facility catered for 80 live-in students.
Sr Rose undertook extension programmes to the Banz and Nondugl areas liaising with village leaders to discover their needs and determination on how school could be of service to them.
Special attention was to work with youths to give them useful occupation in agriculture in an attempt to reduce ‘rascal activities’.   This then culminated in being involved full time as a pastoral worker, supervising schools further teaching of teachers and working with prisoners and a gun surrender programme.
In 1985, Sr Rose read in Time Magazine about HIV/AIDS in Africa and understanding the lifestyle of PNG people she became concerned about preventing the spread of HIV in the Western Highlands and PNG. 
After studying all available material and working with nurses from Kudjip Hospital she developed her own teaching aides and began awareness programmes, incorporating them in retreat programmes in villages.  She remarked that while the people were very attentive, they were convinced HIV/AIDS would not come to PNG.
In 1990 the first two-known HIV/AIDS cases were identified within her own parish.  She then began to pioneer the care of people living with HIV/AIDS.  At that time she had no formal training as a counsellor but her commitment to the people, her involvement with the lives of the people gave her the necessary skills to begin what could only be described as a total commitment to education through awareness, treatment and care for those living with the virus in dedicated care centres. 
Sr Rose worked with doctors at Kudjip and Mt Hagen General Hospital to assist in patient counselling, this commitment has continued right up until today where the Shalom Care Centre, a live-in centre where four to six persons living with HIV can get the necessary support as they journey with the virus.
Sr Rose was awarded a Logohu Medal by Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane, then Governor General of PNG for her services to the people she has served and for the training of counsellors, parent to child care, looking after orphans, carers and other people involved in assisting those with HIV and the families involved.
The National AIDS Council, the secretariat, all the stakeholders, donors and not least the people of Western Highlands thank Sr Rose sincerely for her excellent contribution and wish her good luck in her future endeavor
Sr Rose, had a real heart for the people and will be difficult to replace.