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Catherine Bedford, Psychiatric Nurse, Papua New Guinea

catherine bedford volunteer psychiatric nurse papua new guinea

Catherine Bedford is VSO volunteer, working as a Psychiatric Nurse in Papua New Guinea where the rates of violence against women are amongst the highest in the world for a country not a war. She’s delivering psychological first aid and trauma counselling to survivors often with the barebones of tools and resources. Here are a selection of personal snaps and thoughts that detail her life on the Island.

Where do you live?

This is my cottage. I have one bedroom and an open plan living space with a balcony. It’s lovely, I’m very lucky. It’s in a hotel compound too so it’s very safe. All VSO women live on a compound here. 

Volunteer catherine Bedbord's house in Papua New Guinea

What was the most impactful thing you’ve done today?

Today I helped a 23-year-old girl write her statement for the police. She was raped by two men, and it was too painful to relive the experience by herself so I offered to support her.

Hearing the detail was awful, but I wouldn’t have missed out on being with her. I can’t undo what they did. I will struggle to get those men behind bars in less than three years. What I can do is support her to heal.

Also I mentored a new staff member through the processes and debriefs. This is crucial, because my time here officially ends by July and I want the ideas, attitudes and systems that I build now to last beyond my placement.

Who do you work with?

My day to day is spent mainly with people from PNG. I have several colleagues who I talk with or see almost daily. VSO Staff become like family very quickly; we rely on each other in all sorts of ways. We’re lucky that in PNG we are so close and supportive.

I have colleagues in the hospital who are my first point of contact when I have one of many questions about how it works or how I should go about something. They help me make sense of things.

Kepo is one of my favourite people I work with. He helps me laugh a lot, he is kind and he looks out for me. He’s very cautious of where I go and what time I do things when I’m alone.

Volunteer Catherine Bedford's team in Papua New Guinea

This photo is of me with the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee, [l-r me, Maryanne Luan, Darryl Raka and Cathy Copeland]. I enjoy working with these people. We laugh, we strategise, we share ideas- we are close friends.

Why does volunteering work?

It is often asked ‘what is it that makes a difference’. I believe strongly that being an expat in this field of work is what makes a difference. I can ask questions and demand change in a way I don’t feel my PNG peers have the confidence to, yet.  I hope that once I leave, there will be an expectation of change so my colleagues can develop this work after me.

What’s the safety situation like?

As volunteers we were well prepped. However when I first arrived, I didn’t know how I would get by with all the restrictions- you are told when you can go out, who you can go with, where you can go etc. There were a lot of rules!

Now they are just part of my day so I don’t notice them. I walk to work alone, ten minutes down the main road.  I can go to the market or town alone, and travel on the local bus.

It’s all possible between 7.30am and 5pm- but around that we women [both expats and local] don’t go out unless it’s by car. Men are freer to get around.

What do you do for fun?

Last Friday I went to the Country Club - a members’ only club with a restaurant and bar. It’s good place. I get a lift there and am home by midnight.

Saturday I went kayaking and snorkelling, which is one of the highlights of living here! 

The weekends can be filled with laundry and work.

Leisure time in Papua New Guinea

Where do you eat?

I always go to the local market to buy fresh fruit and veg.

It’s quite cheap and I’d rather buy from local people than the supermarket and it is so fresh.

Dinner can be Thai veggie curry. There supermarkets here are mostly Indonesian so spices are not hard to find!

Healthy food volunteers eat in Papua New Guinea

What are you most proud of?

I led the organisation of an event for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in November 2014. It was the first of its kind in Madang, and people are still talking about it. This article is from a national newspaper in PNG.

press cutting from Papua New Guinea paper