Sally Lloyd: the essence of community development

By Cleo Fleming

When starving and malnourished people started to arrive at Mougulu health clinic in Western Province, Sally Lloyd used social media to call for help for those forgotten and unassisted during Papua New Guinea’s long 2015 drought, bringing their needs to international attention. Behind the scenes, her relationship with the community has quietly spanned a lifetime.

A voice for a forgotten community

Starting in April 2015, Papua New Guinea experienced a prolonged, El Nino-induced drought and a series of devastating frosts. Across the country people suffered from malnourishment, an acute lack of clean drinking water and the threat of death from starvation. Schools and businesses were closed, hospitals and health clinics struggled to meet demand, and communities were displaced as fathers left families or parents left children in order to find food and water, or earn the money to buy them.

By December, food and water shortages due to the drought were still being felt, particularly among remote, isolated communities, and deaths were starting to be reported. Government relief, provided through the controversial District Services Improvement Program, had not reached these places. Difficult and costly to reach — and lacking the political voice of communities more closely linked to the authorities charged with distributing relief — they had essentially been forgotten.

Frost-burnt food in PNG. Photo: Jake Tame, CARE (via ABC)

Mougulu, a mission station in the Strickland Bosavi region of Western Province was one of these places. Built within the territory of the Bedamuni tribe, of which there are some 12,000 members, the settlement at Mougulu has been carved out of a harsh and rugged environment. After months without rain, the crops that the people here rely on as their only food source had failed. When rain began to return in fits and starts, insect and rat infestations ruined much of what grew. At the usually busy market, the stalls were as good as bare: a pumpkin, a bunch of greens, a handful of beans to share among a couple of thousand people.

Starving and malnourished people had begun to arrive at Mougulu’s health clinic, having walked for days from other remote communities to get there. There are no roads and the terrain is mountainous and unforgiving. Among the number of drought-related deaths and illnesses reported in the area, one woman had cracked her head open when she slipped down a cliff-side while searching for food in the dense bush.

While news of this rapidly unfolding disaster had not been heard in Port Moresby, it was starting to spread elsewhere. One of the first to be alerted was Sally Lloyd, a volunteer Australian community development worker who, for much of the year, calls Mougulu home. Arriving in Mougulu on 1 January 2016, she quickly began to gather the kind of evidence that she knew would be needed to spark a response.

To meet Sally is to be given a glimpse of otherwise hard to know people and places. She not only speaks the local Bedamuni language but understands its nuances. So, when undertaking a count of the number of people reported dead due to food shortages, she knew to ask whether they were simply “dead” or “dead-finish”. It turned out that some had been “dead”: they had fainted from weakness or fallen unconscious after eating poisonous mushrooms. Sadly, others were “dead-finish”: they had died as a direct result of a lack of food and water.

Having worked for decades to help reduce local rates of infant mortality, malnourishment and stunting, Sally was shocked by the state in which women and children were presenting at the health clinic. She told the Pacific Islands Development Program in late-January that:

“A little boy came in one day, or his father carried him in … he was really dehydrated, malnourished, very, very hungry and he had fainted, and then become unconscious. They had really nothing to give him and he was too flat to even get a drip into him. We just tried to rehydrate him a little bit and things like that … to see little children in that state because they have not had adequate food is quite heart-wrenching.”

A sick child presenting for treatment in Mougulu. Photo: Sally Lloyd

She began to photograph some of the severely malnourished and dehydrated people in need of care. One of the women she photographed had arrived at the clinic ready to go into labour with twins. Margaret Hagobai had walked for two days to get to Mougulu and in Sally’s words, she was “skin and bones”. After a complicated and painful delivery, one of the babies died the following day.

Sally shared this and other stories along with her photos via social media and emailed them onto friends that she hoped could help, including Dr Michael (Mike) Bourke.