College of Medicine and Dentistry News & Events Our People Meri lida (women leaders) learn about sexual health at Pacific Adventist University, Port Moresby

Meri lida (women leaders) learn about sexual health at Pacific Adventist University, Port Moresby

Thu, 20 Dec 2018
Meri lida (women leaders) learn about sexual health at Pacific Adventist University, Port Moresby
PAU campus

A two-day sexual health training workshop was recently conducted at Koiari Park Campus of Pacific Adventist University (PAU), Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Designed and delivered by researchers from James Cook University (JCU), PAU and the PNG National Department of Health, the training was delivered to equip female spouses of university students to take on leadership roles, identify sexual health issues and safely refer PNG women and their families for appropriate care.

The training was a direct result of recommendations by female spouses of PAU students who had participated in a previous sexual health study, conducted by Dr Michelle Redman-MacLaren of JCU, in partnership with Ms Rachael Tommbe at PAU. Education is prized in PNG, and proximity to education is valued, as these meri lida (women leaders) explained. Female spouses of students who have lived in a place of education such as PAU are sought out by women and their families for advice and support.

“The female student spouses told us they wanted to learn more about sexual health and wellbeing”, said Dr Redman-MacLaren. “They wanted to assist other women and their families when they were posted to villages and towns across PNG after their husband had graduated.”

Dr Redman-MacLaren and the team from JCU, PAU and National Department of Health were awarded a grant from the College of Medicine and Dentistry at JCU to develop the training package, pilot and evaluate the training. The ‘Strongim Meri Lida: Strengthening first responses to sexual health and wellbeing issues in rural Papua New Guinea’ training package was informed by published literature and professional experience. The training was piloted at PAU on the 8th and the 9th of October, 2018.

An open invitation was sent to all female spouses of the university students at the Koiari Park campus to attend the training. Thirteen women participated in the training program from various Pacific islands, including PNG, Fiji & Solomon Islands. The training was formerly introduced by the Deputy Vice Chancellor of PAU, Professor Lalen Simeon. Professor Simeon is also a member of the research team developing the Meri Lida training program.

The training was conducted by Ms Rachael Tommbe, a senior lecturer at PAU and a PhD candidate in the College of Medicine and Dentistry, JCU. Co-facilitators included Ms Clare Kokinai, lecturer at PAU and Mr Kelwyn Browne, an officer of the National Department of Health.  Topics covered included: roles of a women leader; the Meri Lida problem solving frame work; self-awareness and self-care; Basic communication skills; Basic reproductive and sexual health anatomy; risk factors and safe referral pathway for women in unsafe situation. English and Tok Pisin were used interchangeably throughout the training program to facilitate a comfortable and accessible program for the women.

The participants were very keen and eager to learn. A lot of questions about sexual health issues were raised reflecting the participant’s level of knowledge. Role plays, demonstrations and discussions were used to convey information to participants.

A simple graduation ceremony was conducted at the end of the training program. Certificates of Participation were awarded to the women by the Dean of the School Of Health Sciences, Dr Isaac Joshua. The ceremony concluded with bung kaikai (a meal refreshment) with the participants’ families, including husbands, children, and extended family members.

An independent evaluation by a PNG academic was conducted two weeks after the pilot training.

Participants reported that the Meri Lida training has empowered them to provide better support to members of their communities. However, the two-day intensive program was not long enough to expand the knowledge and skills they need to respond to the sexual health needs of individuals, and how they can relate to family and communities. The participants recommended more in-depth training about sexual health issues, and also requested for their husbands to attend a sexual health information session. This men’s session has been arranged and will be delivered by Mr Browne.

The research team are now adapting the Meri Lida package in response to participant and facilitator feedback, and working to expand the reach of the Meri Lida package in PNG. Participants have conveyed sincere gratitude to PAU and JCU for this initiative to expand the knowledge and skills of women leaders at PAU.

By Rachael Tommbe, JCU PhD Candidate and Senior Lecturer

For more information about the Meri Lida training, please email: Rachael.Tommbe@pau.ac.pg or michelle.maclaren@jcu.edu.au