By LULU MARK
V ILLAGERS mocked Jennifer Salimbu Koka’s family when they decided to send her to school in the early 1960s, as it was a common belief then that girls with an education always ended up in immoral activities.
Thankfully her family ignored that unfounded and misguided belief and insisted that young Jennifer completed her education.
Today, she is Sister Jennifer Salimbu Koka Pyakalyia, the unit manager of the Port Moresby General Hospital Obstetrics and Gynecology division. She is also the president of PNG Midwifery Society.
Now 62, she has been happily married for more than 40 years to the first Engan medical doctor, Dr Timothy Pyakalyia, of Papayiuk village in Laigam-Pogera district.
They have four children and four grandchildren one of whom is already planning to be a midwife like her.
“Girls were discouraged from going to school because it was said then that if girls go to school, they would go on to become prostitutes. But my family insisted that I went to school.
“My elder siblings would organise big feasts to celebrate my achievements at school. They were all happy that I was going to school even though people were saying that my family members were wasting time and money on me.
“All the girls we started school with dropped out. But all the negative talk gave me the more reason to continue my education. I wanted to prove the village people wrong and make my family proud.”
Jennifer was born on Nov 25, 1958 at Paruli village, Kandep district, Enga. Her dad Koka Putup was a village chief. Her mum Lakaiwan of Pumbulu village was his dad’s fourth wife.
Jennifer was the eldest of her mum’s four children and eighth eldest of her father’s 13 children.
She was the only girl among the first Grade Six class of 1971 at the Kandep Community School.
She wanted to become a flight attendant but the missionary at the Mambisanda Lutheran Hospital in Wapendamanda told her: “You have to be a nurse because your people need a nurse.”
So she completed Grade 10 at the St Paul Lutheran High School in Wapenamanda in 1975. In February 1976, she enrolled at the College of Allied Health in Port Moresby to study general nursing.
That year, she also met her husband who was in the fourth year at medical school. They got married in Dec 1977 in a traditional ceremony held in Enga. Their church wedding was held in Port Moresby in February 1978.
Her husband went ahead to do his residency in Goroka while she remained in Port Moresby to complete her final year. She graduated in March 1979.
She worked for a while at the Port Moresby General Hospital before moving to Mendi then Goroka to join her husband there. They later moved to the Mambisanda Lutheran Hospital where they worked for two years.
They returned to Port Moresby when her husband was given a teaching position at the medical school.
When the nursing school reopened in 1989 she enrolled for a 10-month midwifery course.
She became the night supervisor in 1994 and in 1996 enrolled for the nursing administration programme. She then looked after the hospital Accident and Emergency Unit and in 1998 applied for her current position.
“As a midwife this is where I am supposed to be. It is the right for very woman to have a safe pregnancy and birthing experience with midwives by their side.”
In 2011 she travelled to the Netherlands to register the PNG Midwife Society with the International Confederation of Midwifery.
“The maternal and child mortality is still high and we still don’t have enough midwives but there has been great improvements in midwifery in the last 10 years.”
Today she does not need glasses and is well and fit.
She thanks God for her life and achievements.
One thing she will never forget is how she and her family proved the villagers wrong.
“I got married properly, graduated from college, proved everyone in my village wrong, made my family proud and remain a stronghold for my family.”
By LULU MARK