The Reef Islands
19 June 2018 | Tanga, Fenualoa, Reef Islands
It's just on four weeks since we departed Brisbane and we are happy to report that things have been going more or less as we could have hoped. We are in the Reef Islands about 80 kms NE of Lata after arriving here a little over a week ago. The total population is around 6,000 but access to many of the villages for us is problematic (tides and shallow lagoons) so people must make their way to our clinics rather than vice versa. Betelnut is a problem and I'd say the only people who don't chew it are those under the age of 10, some as young as six are chewing. The teeth of adults, or the stumps of what they have left, are stained deeply red or are black and often the elderly chewers mash the nuts up with a small mortar and pestle and then use their gums to chew the paste. The main language is a local Reef Island language, followed by Pijin but most people understand enough English to allow to do communicate and there are enough translators around to fill the gaps. Luckily, most have Anglo-Saxon names and we've come across a few real archaic gems like Boniface and Polycarp.
Probably 95% of the people live in thatched huts and live subsistence lives �- some fish but it seems mainly breadfruit, pawpaw, bananas and coconuts. There are no cars and the main form of transport is either by canoe or OBM (outboard motor or a boat with an outboard motor attached) �- long, thin, fibreglass boats, perhaps up to 6 metres long. People travel via OBM between here and Lata and it only takes two hours in good conditions but the conditions are rarely good. When there is a breakdown there is no search and rescue system so people and boats just go missing, sometimes for weeks and sometimes they just vanish ,never to be found. Other than a few government jobs, there is no employment and we assume that money in the community (e.g. for running OBM's) comes via the �"Onetok�" sytem �- relatives with jobs in Honiara sending money back home.
We've just conducted our 5th clinic at the small health clinic at Tanga on Fenualoa. So far we have fitted and supplied over 700 pairs of spectacles and over 2,200 pairs of sunglasses. It continues to be a steep learning curve for us to set up and conduct clinics on the scale we are now doing, having said this though each clinic is better organized than the previous one. One of the most important things we have learnt is that the more help we have the better. The reading/distance glasses create less of a problem than the sunglasses but everybody is keen to make sure they don't miss out so it's a constant process of maintaining law and order. We have decided that the best use of our available sunglasses is to only provide them to people 18 years and older but it's a challenge to make sure that this is maintained, as the young boys and girls find them difficult to resist.
Today we has the assistance of both registered nurses here, John Langku and his wife Elina as well as three volunteers on top of Frances, Caroline and I and we managed to keep everything pretty much under control. We were extremely busy yet again. Although we are not health professionals, it is evident that many, many people have suffered sun damage to their eyes and we would expect one day they would lose their sight altogether. But perhaps our efforts will give them at least another couple of years of sight. Our time at the clinics is intense and exhausting and outside these hours we need to restock and reorganize so generally after eating we are in bed by 8 or so.
The weather has been generally very unsettled �- overcast with rain and squalls which makes navigation though the uncharted waters even more challenging. And it's hot and it's humid. The nights are generally around 28 to 29 degrees, similar to conditions in the build-up in the Northern Territory and, without our cabin fans, we would not be getting any sleep whatsoever.
We are unsure of our plans exactly but will spend at least another few days here before moving on and of course any plans are governed by the weather.
In summary, everything is going very well and the local people are very grateful to have this opportunity to be given better vision. We'll update again in a little while.