In a rural community like Puna, physical isolation can be a hurdle to success and barrier to accessing even the most basic of resources. Housing is relatively cheap, but transportation is not. This forces individuals and families who are in poverty and lack financial resource—those who need the most support—to live where support is least accessible. Without family and friends, it is easy to find one’s self isolated, friendless, and easily victimized.
That is why we are a home-visiting program. When a family asks for help, we go to them. We never know what we are going to find when we visit a family that has sought out our help. Often it is just a family in poverty struggling to make ends meet. However, sometimes, it can be much more.
Susan (not her real name) came to our office when she found our flier at a local clinic and they encouraged her to contact us. She arrived with her 11 month old baby, a chubby happy child, who was covered in insect bites. Susan was warm and attentive, but in desperate need of some basic baby supplies–diapers and wipes–which we provided, along with some emergency food. Before she left, we made arrangement to visit and follow up.
Susan lived in a remote part of the island off a single lane track. Her home was a primitive, unfinished, hand-built structure that lacked power, running water, or sanitation. The family was sleeping on the ground and sharing their home with rats and various critters. They had very limited cell phone service and no car.
Our first priority was to work with the family to make their home safer for the baby. We found bedding to get them off the floor and some surplus mosquito netting to cover the sleeping area, making it less likely that the baby would be stung by a centipede or continue to be devoured by mosquitos.
But the physical discomfort of their environment was not the only challenge. The isolation, primitive lifestyle, and demands of caring for a young child continued to wear on Susan. New to the island, she had no friends or family to help her. The father of her baby used the extreme isolation to control where she could go and with whom she could speak.
Eventually it became too much for Susan. She no longer felt safe. Not knowing where to turn, Susan called us. We drove to her home, helped her grab a few things, and put Susan and her baby in the car. As we were leaving, her partner came around the corner and realized we were helping her escape. He chased us down the road, throwing stones at the car as we left the property.
We put Susan up in a local hotel and contacted her family, who made arrangements for her to fly home. We purchased some essentials for Mom and Baby and told her not to respond to texts and calls from her boyfriend or any numbers she did not recognize. Susan feared that her boyfriend might be waiting at the terminal for her and asked us to take her to the airport for her flight. We drove her to the airport, checked her in, and escorted her to security where there was an emotional good bye. A few weeks later we received a very nice letter from Susan’s parents, saying their daughter had returned home safely and was receiving counseling.
Paul Normann, Executive Director