Medical student learns a lot about Karkar

Weslie Hamambi Rambaio getting ready for a training session at the Gaubin Rural Hospital on Karkar Island, Madang.

SOMETIMES we see photos or paintings of some faraway place in South America or Northern Europe and those stir up a longing in us to go visit.
But then it is likely that we have not visited some of the most beautiful spots, coral islands, deep valleys or mountain ranges, in our backyard here in Papua New Guinea.
I was fortunate to have won a job in Kavieng, in New Ireland, in 2017, and for the past three years until last December I lived there.
While there, I had the opportunity to explore some of the beautiful spots on the mainland as far down south in Namatanai, as well as made trips to some of the islands there including Nago, Nusa Lik and New Hanover.
As one who had lived for years in the other three regions of our country, it was a time of discovery and appreciation of the New Guinea Islands region when I arrived at Kavieng.
My move from Port Moresby to New Ireland then made it my first to have visited a province in the New Guinea Islands.

A student writes about a place
A few weeks back, I took note of what a student was sharing on social media.
He wrote at length about his keen interest in the rural hospital that he was doing his practical training at, in a rural district in Madang.
Weslie Hamambi Rambaio, from Sassoya, in Kubalia, Yangoru-Saussia, in East Sepik, was the writer who was sharing his experiences on social media.
Rambaio is in his fourth year and studying medicine at the Divine Word University.
In the similar way that some of us discovered those beautiful spots in our backyard as well as the rich history they possess, Rambaio was enthralled when he went to do his practical work on Karkar Island, 30 kilometres north of the mainland.
From here on, I will let Rambaio describe his experiences on Karkar.

Rambaio with local children Tiara Kalala (left) and her sister Adel at Kinim village, Waskia, on Karkar Island. – Pictures courtesy of WESLIE RAMBAIO

First impressions
The Gaubin Rural Hospital on Karkar Island was established by early Lutheran missionaries in 1946.
It was there that I was sent to do my practical training as a student of medicine this year.
The journey to Gaubin, which is on the front-side of the island, is 30-35 minutes by boat from Kubugam, on the mainland.
I started taking notes of my experience two weeks into the six-week rural placement of the MBBS (medicine) programme that I was doing at DWU.
I learned that there are two different groups of people on Karkar, the Takia and Waskia, and their local languages also have the same names respectively.
The Takia people live on the southern side of the island, towards the mainland, while the Waskia people live on the northern side.
The Gaubin Hospital is located in Takia and the island is part of the Sumkar electorate.
According to the 2012 national census, there are about 100,000 people on Karkar island. Interestingly, that population is greater than that of Manus province, which according to Wikipedia is about 50,600.
The road around the island is in good condition and allows people to easily get from point A to point B by cars, tractors, motorbikes and bicycles.

Cocoa and copra since 1886
The locals on Karkar make their living mostly by growing cocoa and coconuts.
The island soil is volcanic and is very fertile and cash crops and garden foods are abundant.
The sea around the island also provides many varieties of fish and marine life for protein.
Interestingly, cocoa and copra have been grown commercially on Karkar since 1886 when this part of the Pacific was still under German rule.
There are two major cocoa and copra estates on the island that offer employment opportunities to locals, the Kulili and Biabi estates.
Kulili estate is believed to the longest and widest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Cocoa is grown, harvested and fermented and exported overseas.
While there, I was also imagining that if a chocolate factory was built there that would provide extra employment opportunities for our people in the country.
But then, the fruition of such a dream would depend on the political will of the local MPs and support as well as contribution of ideas from other educated and influential people on the island.

Renewable energy promoted
Another concept that startled me was about me learning about the downstream production of biofuel from the coconut.
The surplus copra is dried and crushed and then carried over to another machine where it is squeezed under strong heat to extract coconut oil.
The oil is then piped into a storage tank to be cooled, before it is again directed to another tank where alcohol, mostly methanol, is added to create a chemical reaction with these oils and fats.
After that reaction, a new substance, particularly a fatty acid or methyl esters, is produced.
That is a kind of biodiesel and can be used as fuel.
That fuel is used to drive the engines of cars and tractors in the daily operations of the estate as well as used to power the ship and yachts. That has proven to be a great cost-cutting measure taken by the management of the estate.
Some of the fuel produced is often donated to Gaubin Rural Hospital to be used in their generator to provide electricity for their wards and medical units.
If you do go to Karkar for a visit, take the time to visit the estate and the fascinating things they are doing there, particularly in promoting the use of biofuel, which is renewable energy.

Appreciation of being there
When I arrived at Karkar, I weighed 55 kg. On the fifth week, the scale told me that I was now 62kg. I had gained 7kg.
I am convinced that the local vegetables are the reason for my weight gain and they are more nutritious than vegetables anywhere else in PNG.
But then, I may be biased.
Apart from benefiting from the clinical training received from the health and medical practitioners at Gaubin, the island has taught me other things, including the history of a relatively unknown spot for most of us, Papua New Guineans.
I have memorable moments of the place and its people.
I can say that I love Karkar Island and its people.


  • Well done gentleman. Thank you for the nice story. I enjoyed reading it. Now I know something about Karkar Island that I didn’t know before.

    Please write some good stories like this from other parts of our country, rather than the same old corruption stories every now and then.

  • My brother Weslie, recalling our days back in UPNG where we use much of our time on geology, a new experience from this different field of study truly gives you a lifetime experience when you travel through such places as Karkar..

    Bro really enjoyed reading your experience. Keep it up brother, waiting for your next experience.

    Big thanks to writer and Manda Hahaku for exposing this young talented medical student!

  • Thanks Medical Student for brief story of my island drifting in a blue ocean. Not many people tal about this island but thanks long luksawe bilong yu. Well said so government of the day mas luksawe. Over populated so can Karkar be own district and service delivery mas go yet.

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