By JOSHUA MANI
AFTER six years with the Royal Air Force (RAF), Siobhain Cole started looking for organisations “which were a force for good” to work with.
She wanted to be part of an organisation that was making the world a better place. Shobhain applied to several non-governmental organisations and eventually her mother told her about the work of the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF).
“I liked the sound of them,” she said, “not only because they were trying to physically help and spread the Good News of Jesus to some of the world’s poorest and isolated people, but also my experience working with the RAF was exactly the skill set they needed at the time.”
Siobhain realised that her upbringing in military communities, joining the RAF and travelling to other countries was God’s hand preparing her for work with the MAF.
At 22-years-old, Siobhain followed the footsteps of her parents and grandfather and enlisted in the RAF after attaining a computer science degree from Southampton University in England. As both her parents served in the RAF, she was raised in military communities in the United Kingdom and Germany.
“Although I am British according to my passport, moving around as a child resulted in me being a citizen of the world and wanting to see far-flung countries.”
In 2013, Siobhain arrived in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea, as the ground operations manager for MAF and a member of the MAFPNG leadership team.
When she was told that she would be sent to PNG, she had to look it up on the map. She did not have any idea about the country and its people.
Siobhain was warned that being a young, single female working cross-culturally in a position of leadership, in charge of men older than herself, would be extremely challenging. But during her first time at the job, one of the senior local staff members, Alex Lewa, told her he was glad she was joining the team as his boss. That was it. She was sold. Siobhain has been working in the country ever since.
For four years, Siobhain worked as the ground operations manager. In the position, she was responsible for all local ground staff across the country as well as the flying programme.
In 2016, she met a Canadian pilot, Ryan Cole, who joined the MAF and flew out of Mt Hagen and Wewak. They got to know each other for a year and in 2017 they exchanged their vows in the United Kingdom. After their marriage, they returned to PNG to serve as a family. The following year, the MAF management asked them to move to Telefomin, West Sepik, as they needed a third pilot to be based there.
“We were happy to move to Telefomin, however, this meant I was unable to remain as the ground operations manager as the position is based in Mt Hangen. Thankfully, I have recruited a highly capable Papua New Guinean deputy so he was promoted to and took over my position.”
In Telefomin, Siobhain works in a support role in the operations department, mainly serving the western part of PNG. She has helped train local staff on a web-based booking system; she helped update MAF’s procedures; she helped with planning complex and unusual flight requests and even helped with weight and cargo manifests sometimes.
To continue to serve in her mission field, serving the MAF, Siobhain has to live without some of the luxuries that she enjoys in her side of the world. One of those luxuries is being able to order groceries and other needs online and have them delivered at home.
“Having limited supplies in trade stores in Telefomin is a challenge which everyone who lives there faces.”
Siobhain travels to Mt Hagen once every three months or so when one of their aircraft goes in for a routine check or when she goes for MAF business. That’s when she gets her rations. Another challenge she faces is living far away from her family and not being able to share in their joys and pains. But she is thankful for the MAF-provided internet as it keeps her and her partner connected to other MAF bases and their families.
“But it does not always work well so it is frustrating at times.”
Nonetheless, she says on days when connection is bad she helps out her Telefomin colleagues Lucy Sokol, Eugene Dikinsep and Steven Kisa at the MAF base.
Siobhain says despite all the struggles and missing out on luxuries she will enjoy back home, she gets her reward in knowing that she is bringing change to people in this part of the world – what she set out to do in the first place.
“I often hear stories of very sick patients being flown to hospital in an MAF plane.
“As I am not a pilot, I rarely see this happening, but throughout my seven years serving in various capacities within MAF, I have always known that when one person’s life is saved through an MAF flight, I am part of the team that made that happen.
“That is an incredible privilege.”