Senta Bilong Helpim
Senta Bilong Helpim – Care Centre in Vanimo, PNG for children with disabilities
St. Gemma’s “Senta Bilong Helpim” which is Pidgin English meaning “Care Centre” started in Waromo in 1994. The following is the story of its starting and its mission.
Harry Soni, a man from Waromo Village, came to Brother Jim, a Passionist Brother, with a wallet he had found on the road. Harry was taking his 3yr old son from hospital back to the village to die. The hospital had done all it could and sent him home to die. While driving to the village, Harry saw a wallet on the road and stopped to pick it up. For a few days he tried to find the owner and eventually he took it to Bro Jim to see if he knew anyone who had lost a wallet. During the conversation it came out about Harry’s son and so Bro Jim visited him that night in the village. Jim saw that he had hydrocephalus and knew that it could be treated in Australia. Without saying anything to Harry as he did not want to get his hopes up, Jim went back to Vanimo and contacted his sister and asked her to find out what could be done.
It was not an easy process but eventually Harry and his son, Darren, were flown to Melbourne where Dr Elizabeth Lewis operated on him at Monash Medical Centre.
Harry and Darren were in Melbourne for 3 months staying at one of Jim’s sisters, Irene, who took them each day after discharge from the hospital, for physio therapy. Their visas were running out and so eventually they returned to PNG but Darren still needed a lot of physio.
The physiotherapist sent CDs with the exercises that Darren needed to Bro Jim and he got volunteers from the wives of the Australian Army officers who were in Vanimo at the time. And that was the start of the Senta.
As Darren’s story spread, other people brought their children along. They had all kinds of disabilities and so videos of the children were sent to Monash and CDs came back with the exercises that could help each child. It was physio by video. The Senta just got bigger and bigger.
If the Senta was not there many of the children would have been killed as they were a burden on the family.
Over the years 26 children were sent to Australia for surgery. Most went to Monash and a few went to St Charles in Brisbane for heart surgery. Every operation was successful and the children came back to live normal lives in the village. Some who returned still needed physio at the Senta.
There have been many great success stories. Darren is still living with the shunt that was put into his head to his stomach all those years ago and is still functioning. He is studying computer technology in Port Moresby.
Jill is another success story. She is a deaf mute and spent years at the Senta learning sign language before being admitted into a local primary school for 2 years. She then progressed to high school where she topped the class each year and is now doing civil engineering at university.
Many of the children after some years at the Senta, have gone on and completed their education, however education was never the main reason for the Senta.
The fact that some have gone on is a great outcome but the main purpose of the Senta is to be a place where the children are happy, loved by dedicated and caring volunteers.
Bro Jim remembers when the children asked if they could come on weekends because they got love and care which they did not get in their villages.
The Passionists continue to be responsible for running the Senta under the watchful eye of Fr Valensius.
There are approximately 40 students attending the Senta daily and they are cared for by 10 volunteers and 1 Passionist sister.
Day to day it is Acobi who ensures the Senta operates efficiently. Acobi came to see Bro Jim at the Senta as a 10- year old in tears because he had just been kicked out of school because he is “longlong” – in other words mentally retarded.
Bro Jim cannot speak highly enough of Acobi.
“He is probably the most intelligent and gifted person that I have ever known. He is a deaf mute and was one of the first to come to the Senta and he is still there today.
He was my right hand man from a very early age. He was always with me and he just seemed to know what I wanted. Neither of us could sign but he just seemed to know. He took care of the pool, cleaning and testing, adding the chemicals etc. He took over the servicing of the generator; the running of the trade store that I set up to raise money. Making furniture. When he was old enough he got his driver’s license and since then has been driving one of the buses doing the pickup in the morning and taking home in the afternoon.
He married a deaf mute girl from the Senta who is now in charge of Callan Services in Vanimo. Callan is a nationwide institute that works with people with disabilities and they work closely with the Senta.
Acobi is still there and virtually runs the show, Father Valensius could not run the Senta without him.”
If you would like to make a donation to assist the compassionate work being done at Senta Bilong Helpim please contact the Passionist Provincial Office.