By SAMUEL BARIASI
HOW often do you come across Papua New Guineans running a disability care centre?
I was amazed to learn about a disability care centre in Epulga, in the Hagen District of Western Highlands, which is currently accommodating 63 people living with disabilities (PLWDs).
The Epulga Disability Care Centre is a community oriented faith-based programme established under the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (ELCPNG). The care centre was founded in 2010 by a kindhearted
Lutheran pastor Reverend Paul Kunjil and his wife Elis.
After graduating from the Ogelbeng Highlands Lutheran Seminary in 2008, Kunjil moved to ELCPNG Epulga where he began his mission with his wife and their four sons.
“We were provoked to establish a disability care centre when we came across a family that all had hearing impairment, the parents and their children were all suffering from it. They often faced difficulties engaging and interacting with people in their community.
“What was more saddening was their living condition and general hygiene. They were living in the poorest conditions imaginable. Poor sanitation, and an unhygienic, broken and quickly deteriorating home. They were often engaged in cheap labour by members of the community, they do hard labour with little appreciation and reward for their work.”
“My wife and I broke down in tears, our hearts were shattered when we saw what the family was going through,” Paul recalled.
“We felt guilty because we knew that it was our pastoral duty and responsibility to help such people.”
Paul and his family decided to dig into their pockets, commit their time and finally managed to help the family.
“Elis was the one who showed them skills and helped improved their capabilities. She changed their lives. She taught them to be self-reliant, and more importantly, she helped in strengthening their spiritual lives,” he said.
Elis said the harvest from her garden was shared among her family members and the PLWDs that they were looking after.
“As time passed, I taught them to do gardening themselves. I taught those with hearing impairments how to plant and I thought the rest how to clean and maintain the gardens,” she said.
“Now they are changed, they are accepted and respected by the community.”
The selflessness, Godly loving kindness and compassion made Paul and his family open their hearts and home to people with different types of disabilities.
To care for the PLWDs, Elis sought help from Callan Services in Mount Hagen, who were very helpful and supportive.
“As the number of PLWDs grew in the centre, the difficulties and challenges also grew, particularly in terms of food, sanitation and proper sleeping quarters,” the couple said.
But they did not give up, they withstood the challenges and sought help from fellow church members.
“It was definitely God’s doing when He caused Rau Kobale and his wife, Ali, to join us in support of the centre,” Elis said.
“Out of their faith and the love for God, they voluntarily and selflessly joined hands with us in this important work. Out of the little money we earn, we built a small centre to accommodate PLWDs.”
Rau and his wife (Ali) were touched when they saw what the reverend and his wife were doing.
“I am from Chimbu, my wife is from Epulga,” Rau said.
“I am a police officer at Boroko Police Station. During my duty travels to my wife’s village, my wife and I discovered the care centre and decided instantly to commit ourselves to the cause.
“We provide support to the care centre by supplying materials, equipment, and most importantly, our tithes from my job and earnings from other income-generating activities that my wife and I engage in.
“The fascinating thing that I see about the care centre is that we have a couple (Paul and Elis) who is not from Epulga but are willing to commit themselves to do something very special.”
Epulga village is about 15km from Mt Hagen city centre. Paul is from Dei, his wife Elis is from Tambul-Nebilyer.
The couples (Kunjils and Kobales) often encountered challenges and difficulties along the way but through God’s grace, assistances came in from ELCPNG and partner churches like the Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) and other local churches in their community. The local community, non-governmental organisations and business houses also provided support with cash and in kind.
The community members, leaders and families showed interest and supported in various ways as well.
Recently, through ELCPNG Hagen District’s Reverend Ten Tengdui, Jacob Luke of Mapai Foundation came on board with a donation of 13 wheelchairs and pledged further partnership with the care centre.
The care centre is developing and still struggling, growing from strength to strength, having lately registered with the Investment Promotion Authority making it a recognised charitable organisation to provide care for persons with different impairments who are currently registered and living in the centre.
The 63 PLWDs in the Epulga Disability Care Centre are from all over Western Highlands, three are from Enga and one is from Southern Highlands.
Music heals, most people say. But who can explain how that works? For Armstrong Gomara, part of his healing process started when he decided to travel to Epulga two months ago to teach music and painting to the PLWDs.
Gomara, widely known as Dadiigii, is from Misima in Milne Bay and Finschhafen in Morobe, has been in the music industry for 20 years.
The ‘Kande’ singer is now engaged in an arts programme with PLWD at the Epulga Disability Care Centre.
“We’ve completed the first phase of the programme, which is recording a music album for the visually impaired. The second phase will be shooting of three music video clips in which all PLWD in the care centre will participate in. The third phase of this programme will be drawing, painting, and screen printing. That is for the hearing and speech impaired. The fourth phase and the key part of the project will be the shooting of our short movie, titled Mama Olsem Wanem?
Gomara said the programme was his own initiative and slowly turning out to be a success with the help of his family members.
“My family members (Asina Bakine and George Gomara) are working as my crew with no pay,” he jokingly said.
“I have a small media company registered as Section 8 Media Production. I have basic music and video production equipment with several homemade fixtures that I believe can do the job.”
He said he had no idea where he was going to receive help with equipment.
“I do believe that with God, nothing is impossible,” he added.
“My advice to musicians out there is that playing live music is not the only way to earn a living and having satisfaction as a musician. Make use of technologies, seek knowledge, and be well-informed on the different ways of how to sell your work.”
“PLWDs need to be taught life skills so they believe in themselves that they can face live and survive like any other human being,” Gomara said.