Kapuna Hospital is hidden deep in the jungle swamps of Papua New Guinea. Clinging tenaciously to the banks of the crocodile-infested Wame River, a tributary of the mighty Purari River, Kapuna (and Kikori Hospital on the Kikori River) are the only hospitals within paddling distance for 30,000 PNG locals.
Before Pidgin English became the common language of PNG, the trade language was Police Motu. In Police Motu, a hospital is muramura gabuna (medicine place); so the name “Kapuna” is a slight variant.
And Kapuna is certainly a medicine place; hard to get to, true, but a place well worth the effort.
In 1949 an Australian man, the “anonymous donor”, gave a large sum of money to the work of the London Missionary Society in PNG. The society worked along the long southern PNG coastal strip from Daru to Samarai.
The founding principle of the LMS is unique. LMS stated clearly that any churches arising from its work were to choose their own structure and organisation that would best promote the “Kingdom of God” in their area. This principle had a profound effect on the structures of the new churches. Naturally they varied from country to country, and within the country too.
In considering the monetary gift, the LMS decided the greatest need in PNG was to provide health care. The place considered the most needy was the Purari Delta area.
Three rivers make up the large Delta of the Gulf of PNG: the Purari, Era, and Kikori. These rivers wind in and out of bush-clad mud sediment islands. Too many to count! Some of the island areas are large enough to support 2 or 3 villages. Finding your way through the labyrinth is a nightmare, especially because they keep changing.
The LMS built on the Wame river, an east-west connecting link between the Purari river delta and Romily Sound, the only deep water river in the area.
There was a sawmill across the river from
the site the could supply the timber for the buildings. Local carpenters trained at Kikori worked under a New Zealand builder to erect the hospital. When the first buildings were complete, Dr Neville Anderson and his wife Pat arrived to begin the medical work. English nurses Avis Martin and Paul(Constance) Fairhall, and Samoan nurses, Pamata and Olioli, all assisted at various times.
The Andersons returned to Australia in 1953. The New doctors, Peter and Lin Calvert from NZ, arrived in 1954. Peter carried on the enormous pioneering task of setting up the hospital and nursing school.
Peter and Lin left NZ in February 1953 with one-year-old daughter, Valerie, and traveled to Sydney where they both gained post-graduate qualifications in tropical medicine. Son, Edward (Ted) was born in Sydney, conveniently during the study break. The family then boarded “The Bulolo”, the regular shipping service to PNG.
The trip took six weeks.
Their first view of Port Moresby included a famous Hiri Lakatoi (ocean-going house canoe), anchored in the harbour, before they were met by the extremely hospitable Eric and Gwen Ure.
One of the first questions asked was “Do you have a white coat to wear to meet the Governor General?”
In those days the pioneering work done by the Christian missions was actively encouraged by the Government, and all new missionaries were welcomed personally by the Governor General.
In contrast to Port Moresby, Kapuna was ‘in the bush’. There was no outside communication, except for a coastal boat every few months. There were few schools, no English, and few locals had traveled outside their tribal area. Travel was by dug-out paddle canoe or by ‘Martha’, a slow chug-chug launch.
The 200-plus inches of rain a year kept everything as mud, especially during the winter wet season. In the dry season, lawns were cut by sariff (long sharpened strips of metal). Snakes abounded in the long grass. Lighting was by kerosene lamp. There was also a kerosene fridge for vaccines and cold water.
The local language was the Baimuru language group (comprising 5 very different dialects). Hiri Motu (known as Police Motu) was also common as the trade language.
The hospital staff consisted of 1 temporary English ward sister, 2 Samoan sisters, 4 girls who had reached standard 2 level (year 3 primary), and 4 married men.
The Calverts quickly settled in and Kapuna became the home they loved.
Dr. Peter set up and supervised 15 village aid posts and wrote a manual for their training. He set up a radio network to communicate with other mission stations, in particular to help them with their medical problems. For many years he gave medical advice as best he could over the air waves. He expanded the village health ‘patrols’ and achieved immunisation coverage, rivaling any Western country. All of this was done using canoes for transport and, later, the MAF float plane to reach villages more efficiently.
Peter died in 1982, but his family carry on God’s calling. His wife, Lin ran the hospital for the over 20 years. Her youngest son, Colin, and wife Barbara have been helping to improve the hospital and spearhead the Christian outreach in the area.
Sixty years on, Kapuna is still the same – yet very different. Electricity brought great changes to everything. Lights for night hospital work made a huge difference.
One story of the pre-electricity days comes immediately to mind: a caesarian needed in the middle of the night. Peter had six nurses to assist him and one torch. Five (new) nurses fainted in the course of the operation and had to be laid out on the floor. But thankfully, one torch-bearer nurse (and the torch) remained faithful for the duration.
Kapuna is now lit up, and easily recognizable from air or river. (In fact, Kapuna used to be marked on jumbo jet flight maps from Australia to Asia because it is right on the flight path and had a large area of shiny corrugated iron roofing that could be seen from 30,000-feet up).
Transport has moved from 7 knots to 27 as outboards took over. Communication improved with the advent of land planes to the airstrip at Baimuru (replacing the Catalina flying boats).
It was a landmark day when Kapuna got its first VF radio, but now telephone, fax and e-mails make communication easy.
A 3-class school helps to keep our married staff happy and their children learning. There are large classrooms for the nursing school with a library/conference room, and an office. There are also a church, a chapel, and a much larger office area.
A lawn mower keeps the grass looking like lawn most of the time (petrol and parts permitting). A large workshop with power tools and a maintenance team try to keep up with the work of looking after the fleet of boats and the aging hospital buildings.
Best of all was the wonderful revival of God that came in the 1970s, with life-giving changes to hundreds of locals. All the praise goes to Him for helping Kapuna to overcome difficulties and problems too many to rememeber, let alone describe. All the difficulties and problems have never been as great as the many blessings and gifts of God we have known and appreciated over the last 60 years. (For a copy of Let the Fire Burn by Dr. Lin Calvert click the title.)
*Thanks to Doctor Lin Calvert for the above history of Kapuna*
Kapuna is a Mission Hospital. As such, its medical history and its Christian history are intricately entwined
Kapuna Hospital is built in 1950ish by the London Missionary Society). Serving a number of local tribal groupings, it was important for the hospital to be ‘neutral’, hence, a green field was the chosen site, rather than adding to an existing village. It is built halfway between two villages: Kairimai, just up-river, and Ara’ava, just down-river.
Kapuna consisted of 4 thatch-roofed ‘Wards’ and a connecting verandah, with various staff accommodation dotted around it and a log jetty jutting out into the river. Heading up the medical team of local nurses was Sister Fairhall from Australia.
1953: Doctors Peter and Lin Calvert (New Zealand) arrive after gaining Diplomas in Tropical Medicine from Sydney Medical School..
Kapuna got its first outboard-powered canoe. An Archimedes boasting 4-horsepower.
Electricity comes to Kapuna for 3 hours every night thanks to a Lister diesel generator.
Nursing training (male and female) begans, in part because there is a great need for trained nurses throughout the country, but also to ensure on-going staffing for the hospital itself.
Peter started a radio ‘medical sked’, giving advice to mission stations all over PNG. This quickly became a hugely popular services. Advice had to suit the conditions, the medicines available, and the competence of those at the other end of the SW radio…. if they can be heard through the hiss and crackle of static. The whole family soon learned the ‘radio alphabet’. In fact, a local cat is named ‘Bravo Victor’ after the famous Kapuna call sign.
A group of South Islanders (New Zealand) donate a jetboat to the hospital. The first ever jet boat in PNG. For many years it proved a speedy response to medical crises, but its Zephyr Ford 6 cyclinder engine was a gas guzzler. It was never the same after one of the Calvert sons drove it into the bank and flipped it up and over a leaning coconut tree.
John and Hazel Cribb moved to Kapuna from Aird Hill, making it the centre of the LMS work in the Delta.
Lin, now fluent in one of the local languages, produces the Gospel of Mark in the Lai language.
Andrew Dunn and family take over the Cribb’s role overseeing the local church.
Progressively, Peter and Lin’s four children (Valerie, Ted, Alan, and Colin) head back for High School in Dunedin, New Zealand, experiencing temperature shock more than culture shock .
The United Church of Papua New Guinea was formed, being an amalgamation of the local Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. This heralds a gradual exodus of ex-pat missionaries, with many mission works taken over either by the government (hospitals and schools especially) or by the local United Church. Amidst all the change, Kapuna keeps on delivering babies, treating scabies, warring against malaria and TB and a thousand other tropical diseases and man-made injuries.
The Dunns move to Port Moresby to pastor the main United Church there.
Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) trials a float plane to reach areas only accessible by water. The Purari Delta is a prime target and Kapuna Hospital enjoyed its services for many years.
Christian revival breaks out all over PNG. Hundreds of locals were came to faith and were baptised. Many years of great spiritual blessing follow, though mixed with trials and tribulations.
Valerie Calvert returned to PNG to attend medical school in Port Moresby. She later married Bryan Archer, a New Zealander volunteer, building in Port Moresby for various mission organisations.
Kapuna became an independent local Christian Institution, under the umbrella of Gulf Christian Services (GCS).
After a number of years working for Youth for Christ in Dunedin, Colin Calvert felt God’s calling to return to Kapuna ‘to honour his father and mother’. He got involved in the Christian Outreach and Discipleship programs and helped with the hospital administration.
Dr. Peter was diagnosed with bowel cancer and returned to NZ for surgery. Lin and Colin hold the hospital together during his absence.
Unfortunately, the cancer returned, and in 1982, Peter passed away and was buried at Kapuna.
Lin continued the medical work with Colin as Hospital Administrator.
Colin returned to New Zealand for a year to attend Faith Bible College and married Barbara Dovey of Balclutha. He and Barbara then returned to Kapuna to continue the administration and outreach programs.
Doctors Neil and Bev Hopkins and daughter, Kirstin, came to help in the medical and Christian work.
Eric and Ruth Jack and Warren and Mary Tapp helped with the hospital administration (Kapuna had grown significantly).
Sister Kana, a graduate nurse from Kapuna, returned to head up the nursing school, freeing Dr. Lin up for more medical work.
The Hopkins, the Jacks, and the Tapps progressively return to New Zealand, leaving good systems in place.
Computers hit the jungle. Better housing and better computers soon made them an essential part of the hospital administration.
Many short-term helpers came from many parts of the globe (Australia, New Zealand, Britain, USA). The medical and Christian work at Kapuna continued.
Sister Kana died; Colin and Barbara adopted her daughter, Stephanie.
Kapuna (GCS) is asked to take over the neighbouring Kikori Hospital.
An oil company working in the area donated money to upgrade Kikori Hospital.
Colin and Barbara’s children (Lavara, Janai, Jadon, and Shiana) progressively return to New Zealand for High School.
GCS is involved in many aid projects, funded by a variety of countries and organisations, including:
-Installing water tanks, to provide clean drinking water to local villages.
-Distributing treated mosquito nets to try and reduce endemic malaria.
-Re-treating of mosquito nets.
-AIDS and drug awareness programs in local villages.
Dr. Valerie Archer returned to Kapuna to help Dr. Lin with the medical work.
Dr. Lin retired to spend more time in her garden.
Dr. Beth Lewis, from England, joins the staff.
A new elementary school is built over the swamp.
Kapuna continues to grow!
LET THE FIRE BURN is the story of the revival at Kapuna in the 1970s. For a copy click here.