I decided to stay in mission in Kimbe, Papua New Guinea during the COVID-19 pandemic. I prayed about staying or leaving, and I chose to stay in mission knowing full well of all the complications that came with making that decision. My new assignment this year is to teach Grade 9 English at Ruango Junior High School in the Diocese of Kimbe, PNG.
After I decided to stay, the country followed the example of other countries by going on lockdown and closing all schools. Schools were canceled for about five weeks and reopened on May 4 for grades 7 and up. Lower grades will resume sometime in the near future. Classes opened on a trial basis and will be closely monitored throughout the month of May. If there are any new cases, schools might be closed again.
Lockdown looks a bit different here in PNG than what I see on TV of what’s happening in the United States and other parts of the world. We still have daily and Sunday Mass in the church in the Diocese of Kimbe. Bishop John Bosco felt confident that his parishioners would defend him if anything should happen to him. The stores shortened their hours and their shelves are stocked with most essentials, however, products coming from other countries are in somewhat short supply. People are required to wash their hands before entering stores and the sale of alcohol is prohibited. The central market is slowly opening but with limited hours. A curfew was put in place from 7pm till 5 am every night, but now the curfew starts at 9pm.
Unlike many other countries, Papua New Guinea has not felt the full effects of COVID-19. There are only eight reported cases as of today and they all eventually tested negative and also as of today - there are 0 deaths. Some say it’s because PNG is a Christian country that prays together and God has answered their prayers of preventing this virus from entering PNG. Others are saying that it is only a matter of time before it’s PNG ‘s turn to feel the full effects of this dreaded disease, while still others say that it’s the hot climate that kills the virus before it can spread to others. Only time will tell which theory is true or who knows, maybe it’s a combination of all three. Whatever you believe, please continue to pray for a cure and erase COVID -19 pandemic from the world.
School did start on Monday, May 4 with only 79 students out of 190 in Grade 9 in attendance. We had a short orientation for them about Covid-19 and dismissed them at 10:30 am. Tuesday through Friday, we only had around 100 students and we don’t know what to expect for the next few weeks. Will all students show up or will we continue to have low attendance - which would be nice for the sake of the teachers. As far as face masks are concerned, on Monday, only half of the students and staff wore face masks, but by Friday, only about a handful of students wore them. We have water jugs instead of sinks for students to wash their hands and that is a major problem- the health department told us it was a violation of one of the COVID-19 codes, so male students had to dig ditches to install a water line and hopefully soon we will have sinks installed as well. As we begin this ‘new normal’ of school life up until the State of Emergency is finally lifted and everything turns back to ‘normal’ - whatever that will mean, it is a new and most interesting experience for both students and staff alike.
Church has never really changed except the grand attempt to practice social distancing, prohibit shaking of hands during blessings and greetings and not taking holy communion on the tongue, etc. It is sort of bittersweet to watch St. Bartholomew, my church in Long Beach, California hold their mass on the internet. It’s nice for me being so far away, but my heart aches for my fellow parishioners denied the opportunity to share in the experience, especially during Holy Week and Easter Sunday- and every Sunday for that matter.
So now PNG is trying to slowly lift its lockdown restrictions - joining with other countries to try to keep this virus away as the world fights for an eventual cure- let us all pray together and to embrace only the positive parts of the ‘new normal’ (for me - I like the idea of washing hands and would not mind if this was done on a permanent basis). Social distancing, however, is really not part of the PNG culture and hopefully, will be one restriction that comes to an end.
Please continue to pray for me as I continue my mission here in PNG and I will pray for you in return as America and the rest of the world begins to lift the many forced restrictions and as a cure is ultimately found to end COVID-19.
Until next time- God Bless...
Special Note: I have had a special honor by one of my previous co- workers, Mrs, Mangmial. She asked me to help name her newborn son. I told her my name is Danita and I was named after my Dad, Daniel. My parents were expecting a big boy, but boy were they surprised when they had twin daughters instead. My twin sister is Debra (or Debbie). I was especially honored when she named her son Junior Daniel Mangmial. Pray with me that he grows up healthy and successfully.