St Francis Care Home started as a dream. It was the dream of Rebecca Lero Rami from Longo village in Mendi, Southern Highlands Province, who is the founder and manager of the St Francis Care Home, outside Mendi town.
Despite her lack of education (she left school in grade 5) and very limited resources, Rebecca Lero Rami has a big heart and passion to help people. Because of her character, she is known to many, especially her children at the Care Home as ‘Mama Rebecca’. Mama Rebecca was very involved with her local church, the Catholic Diocese, and participated in training facilitated by the Catholic Mission. One of the first training programs she attended was in HIV/AIDS sensitization. After the training, Mama Rebecca was conducted awareness-raising sessions in her community about HIV and AIDS. Through these activities, she saw how people, especially children, were discriminated against because of their HIV/AIDS status. Mama Rebecca said, ‘’it broke my heart to see children and people with HIV and AIDS being discriminated against, and that was when I thought to myself that it would be good to take care of such people, and with God’s help, I decided to do that.’’
In 2006, Mama Rebecca had already started taking care of children, especially orphans with whatever little she had. Mama Rebecca had envisioned the home she wanted to create for the unwanted and less fortunate children, but didn’t have the funds to support her dream. She later approached Bishop Steven in Mendi with her plans, and was told to prepare a proposal. With help from a volunteer, she submitted a proposal to the Bishop who provided K2,000 and undertook a survey of the land.
Mama Rebecca initially constructed the Care Home using bush materials. She sold her belongings, which included pigs, bilums, clothes, and put together whatever she earned from her part-time jobs to complete the building. Once the building was completed, Mama Rebecca knocked on doors and was given beds built by a local carpenter, chairs from Mendi General Hospital, and two tables from a local lodge. From all that she collected, Mama Rebecca managed to also create a small training hall, with a few rooms for accommodation which she put out for hire to create income to support her work. ‘’There were many negative comments about what I was building, but I never gave up,’’ she added.
In 2013, former Member for Imbonggu Francis Awesa provided funding of K50,000 to replace the centre with a permanent building. This was one of Mama Rebecca’s answered prayers. With the support of her husband, they used the funding and timber from their own land to build a 10-bedroom centre with a spacious living area. Mama Rebecca also began offering safe accommodation to women and children who are survivors of violence as there was no other place for them to go. Because of that, she changed the name of the centre to its current name, St Francis Care Home.
Throughout the years, Mama Rebecca has depended entirely on the support from her church and community. ‘’Catholic Mission is my backbone. They have continued to help me with food, clothes, and even school fees for the children. Most of my support comes from the Catholic Diocese of Mendi,’’ she said.
In 2016, the former Member Mr Awesa visited St Francis Care Home with the company of the former Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea Bruce Davis as part of their tour to visit several major development projects in the Imbonggu District. This visit brought in the much-needed assistance for the Care Home’s land title and license to operate. Mama Rebecca was so grateful for the support provided by the Australian Government, saying, ‘’the Australian Government has played a tremendous role in helping me but I don’t know how I could ever thank them.’’ She said that she is now waiting for the Australian Government to assist her with some promised upgrades to the centre. Mama Rebecca added that the National Community Development had also assisted with some funding to help with some necessary operational costs.
Recently this year, Femili PNG under the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative had visited Mendi, providing sensitisation training on family and sexual violence and trauma-informed care to service providers. Mama Rebecca was one of the participants in the training. After hearing about the amazing work that Mama Rebecca and her small hard-working team have been doing, Femili PNG visited St Francis Care Home and donated food, wool for women to make bilums and sell, and poultry. Mama Rebecca was very grateful for the donation and support, and additional food and necessities that were provided again in April this year.
These donations and assistance by Femili PNG were made possible by the support of the National FSVAC, PNG Department of Justice and Attorney-General, the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative and the Australian Government in partnership with the Government of PNG as part of the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program.
Despite the many challenges that Mama Rebecca faces in helping women and children, she hopes to expand and provide a more convenient and safe place for those needing refuge. She concluded by saying, ‘’before God calls me home, I want to create a good and safe place for women and children. I want to set up high covenant buildings with proper fencing where mothers, girls and boys can feel safe. I want to see this place be developed.’’
Mama Rebecca has big dreams but her biggest challenge is funding. Her request to the PNG Government is for support to set up such safe homes so she can take care of those in need. Apart from a roof and food to eat, Mama Rebecca continues to provide love and care to the women and children at St Francis Care Home.