Pacific profiles: Almah Kuambu

Almah is a qualified Prosthetist Orthotist and a Papua New Guinea (PNG) woman with a disability. Almah shared her inspirational story with Motivation Australia, reflecting on her journey so far and her hopes for Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O) services in PNG reaching more women and girls in the future.

Almah and a young boy using a wheelchair pose for the camera, smiling.

A leader in her field

Almah Kuambu is the Technical Advisor of the National Orthotics and Prosthetics Service (NOPS) with the National Department of Health in PNG.

She is hard-working, optimistic and a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. She is a leader in her field and has presented at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

Almah shared her inspirational story with Motivation Australia, reflecting on her journey so far and her hopes for Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O) services in PNG reaching more women and girls, like her, in the future.

Almah and a man sit reading forms, they are both dressed in the same service uniform.

“Like any other young PNG girl, I was taught the basic things that were required by a girl to do in the family. My mother taught me how to cook and clean. As a girl, I wouldn’t leave home without notifying my parents and I would always have my eldest sister or my younger siblings tag along as well. And of course, I spent most of my time with my siblings playing and having fun.”

Almah’s journey

Growing up, Almah’s father worked as a banker. His job required the family to move constantly and Almah lived in seven provinces before she was 10 years old. At the age of 11, her father’s job took the family to Bialla town in West New Britain Province, where she would spend the remainder of her childhood.

Almah’s father had a big influence on her life, she fondly recalls him giving her and her sisters advice, that has shaped the woman that she is today.

“He would say ‘do your best in school and get jobs that will make you independent. Being independent makes a person strong and as girls we needed to be strong”

Help more woman study Prosthetics and Orthotics

At the age of 11, Almah’s life changed dramatically when surgical complications after a minor accident led to her left leg being amputated to save her life.

At that time, the only service in the country that could fit Almah with a prosthetic leg, was in Lae, the second largest city in PNG. Almah remembers being afraid the day she visited the service with her mother. During her assessment, the technician reassured her, telling her he would make her a great new leg!

During her visits to the service, she was fascinated by how a new prosthetic leg could be made from making a cast of her amputated leg. She was amazed that the work of the technicians enabled her to walk again.

Almah’s curiosity for prosthetics had begun! She decided that if she was ever given the opportunity, she would study prosthetics and help people like her.

In 2009, Almah received the opportunity to study Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O) in Cambodia. After three years in Cambodia, she graduated and returned to PNG to work at NOPS.

Eight years on she has learned so much and grown in self-confidence. Now as team leader, the technician who made her first prosthesis is one of her team.

Almah reflects that she used to feel shy about her disability, but now embraces it and uses it as a way to positively influence her clients. She particularly loves enabling children to go to school.

“My heart cries every time I meet a young girl or boy because I know the challenges they will grow up with are huge. Sometimes, I share my lived experiences with those who feel that the world has ended for them because of their physical disability and it gives them confidence to live life positively”

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Impact on women and girls

Almah is passionate about advocating to improve P&O services in PNG, particularly for women and girls. Reflecting on her own experiences, Almah remembers travelling alone to Lae for a follow-up P&O appointment and feeling quite daunted.

Almah agrees with research suggesting that women in PNG find it much harder to access health services. She believes there are many reasons for this, including not feeling safe going out alone, lack of family support, lack of access to safe public transport, stigma, discrimination and lack of knowledge about what services are available.

As team leader, Almah now has more influence over how services are delivered. In the short term, taking the service to women and girls in their own homes ensures those who may not be able to travel, can still access services. This year, Almah and her team have conducted outreach visits to Kompiam and Kundiawa in the remote PNG Highlands, with the support of Motivation Australia and our members.

It was on an outreach visit to Kompiam that Almah met Violet, a client who left a special impression on her. Providing services to women and girls is very personal for Almah.

Violet stands on her new prosthesis without any extra support, she is wearing a colourful shirt and shorts and smiles brightly at the camera.

In the long term, Almah is interested in how technology can help reach women and girls more effectively. Mobile coverage is still developing in PNG, but when she can, Almah is using messaging apps to connect with clients. New technology such as telehealth and 3D printing would create even greater opportunities for NOPS to scale their services.

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Hopes for the future

Anyone who knows Almah, knows that she is a passionate about her work. She enjoys talking to clients, hearing their stories, their challenges and dreams. Almah never imagined she would work in a P&O service, let alone be team leader.

Almah has had opportunities, and her positive attitude to life and hard work has helped her make the most of them. Now she wants to create opportunities for other women and girls like her in remote towns. Her ambition to improve services for women and girls, is driving the expansion of the National Orthotics and Prosthetics Service (NOPS) into more provinces of PNG.

Acknowledgements

Motivation Australia’s work relies on the continued support of our members, to who we are always grateful. Find out how you can train and equip more amazing health professionals like Almah by becoming a member or making a one-time donation.