12-year-old Ruth was medevacked by MAF after she was shot (Credit: Landen Kelly)
HealthMedevacWomen and Girls

‘While I was playing, they shot me’ – Ruth survives tribal violence in PNG

3rd July 2023

12-year-old Ruth was medevacked by MAF after she was shot (Credit: Landen Kelly)

12-year-old Ruth was medevacked by MAF after she was shot (Credit: Landen Kelly)

Ruth was innocently playing with her friends outside in the remote village of Yenkisa in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands, when a member of a rival tribe randomly shot her through the perimeter fence and nearly killed her. Thanks to MAF’s medevac to hospital where she received lifesaving surgery, Ruth is alive to share her story

Yenkisa – located in Papua New Guinea’s northern province of Enga – is an isolated village surrounded by a perimeter fence. Playing within the assumed safety of their village enclosure, Ruth and her friends had no idea that their world would be shattered in seconds:

‘We live inside the fence, which helps to protect us. I didn’t know about the fighting. I was just playing with the other kids in the sunshine, like I always do. I didn’t know that the enemy had come to attack us and kill me.

‘While I was playing and unaware, they came and shot me. When the bullet went inside of me, I felt severe pain and I lost consciousness. They carried me to the clinic – I thought I had died.’

Ruth, MAF medevac patient

Ruth had been shot in the abdomen by a member of a rival tribe. With the fence obscuring his view, he had no idea who or what he was shooting at.

Highland villages have no road access and are only directly accessible by plane (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

Highland villages have no roads & are only accessible by plane (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

MAF plane on Yenkisa Airstrip (Credit: Landen Kelly)

MAF plane on Yenkisa Airstrip, Enga Province in PNG’s Highlands (Credit: Landen Kelly)

Semi-automatic weapons have replaced bows and arrows

This is not the first time Yenkisa has been at the centre of tribal violence and Ruth – an innocent bystander – is not the first child to be caught in the crossfire.

According to ABC News, around 89,000 people were displaced across the country by political violence following Papua New Guinea’s national elections last year. 30,000 people were from the Highlands. Tribes weaponised their allegiance to different parties and Enga Province was one of the worst hit regions, with many violent disputes still ongoing today.

For generations, tribal fighting has plagued Enga Province and other parts of PNG’s Highlands. Ironically, fighting is seen as a means of resolving disputes over land or resources, but instead it simply perpetuates cycles of revenge.

In the last 20 years, methods and ‘rules’ of war have drastically changed – semi-automatic weapons have replaced bows and arrows, and the notion of protecting women and children, has fallen by the wayside.

The population of Enga Province is over 430,000 people but there are only 200 police officers. With the influx of guns, it’s a huge feat to keep this volatile region under control with limited resources (source: Enga Province Police Dept).

Yenkisa Clinic in PNG’s Highlands (credit: Andrea Rominger)

Yenkisa Clinic, Enga Province in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands (credit: Andrea Rominger)

Village clinics do not have the facilities to undertake advanced treatment (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

Village clinics cannot accomodate advanced treatment (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

Without MAF, it could take a week to walk to hospital

Ruth was rushed to the local clinic based at Yenkisa Airstrip where Nurse Jacklyn Peterson attended to her:

‘She was brought to the clinic with a gunshot wound and was in severe respiratory distress, so I had to observe her until morning.’

Jacklyn cared for Ruth all night and kept her stable, but she needed surgery to remove the bullet. Her colleague coordinated a medevac from MAF, which arrived first thing in the morning. 10-minutes later, Ruth was admitted to Kompiam Hospital, which has better facilities.

Aerial view of Kompiam District Hospital (credit: Mandy Glass)

Aerial view of Kompiam Hospital in Enga Province (credit: Mandy Glass)

Most villages within PNG’s Highlands do not have access to roads or any means of transport. Without MAF, it would have taken up to a week to carry Ruth on foot by stretcher through the jungle to hospital – a journey she would likely not have survived in her condition. MAF is a lifesaver says Jacklyn:

‘Yenkisa is a very difficult geographical location. Patients cannot just walk. MAF makes the patient’s life easier when they are transferred to Kompiam Hospital. MAF saves lives in places like Yenkisa.’

Dr Mills oversees an operation at Kompiam Hospital where there are advanced facilities (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

Dr Mills in surgery at Kompiam Hospital which has proper facilities (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

Patients recover at Kompiam District Hospital before MAF flies them home (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

Recovering at Kompiam Hospital before MAF flies patients home (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)

‘We had to remove her whole bowel’

After arriving at Kompiam Airstrip, Ruth was rushed to hospital. Within an hour, she was operated on under the supervision of Dr David Mills, Director of Kompiam Hospital. Junior doctor, Rachel Hopkins was part of the medical team during the eight-hour operation:

‘Once Ruth arrived, the full medical team was there to receive her. We immediately started giving her treatment that she needed to try and make sure that she was stable because we knew that she’d have to have surgery. 

‘Once we started the surgery, we had to remove her whole bowel and inspect every inch of it to look for any damage. We found eight holes that we had to repair, but praise God, no serious structures had been damaged.’

Dr Rachel Hopkins helped remove the bullet from Ruth’s bowel (Credit: Landen Kelly)

Dr Rachel Hopkins helped remove the bullet from Ruth’s bowel (Credit: Landen Kelly)

Ruth woke up after the operation and miraculously, despite the many holes that had to be closed, her bowel started working after a couple of days. Ruth is grateful:

‘I am happy with God for sending the MAF plane. God gave me life and I awoke. I slowly got better and the plane brought me home. I’m not bitter with them for shooting me. God saved me and I have forgiven them. Now I want to do God’s work.’

MAF is a ‘lifeline’

Without MAF, patients like Ruth and her entire village would suffer says Dr Rachel Hopkins:

‘Yenkisa is such a resource poor setting, that the airstrip and MAF are their lifeline. It’s their lifeline for food, supplies and medicine. It’s their lifeline for patients like Ruth who need to be flown out.

‘It would also be unlikely that health workers would be willing to come out here if there wasn’t the support from MAF. It might be impossible to run Yenkisa Clinic without MAF.’

MAF is a ‘lifeline’ in so many ways says Dr Rachel Hopkins (Credit: Landen Kelly)

MAF is a ‘lifeline’ in so many ways says Dr Rachel Hopkins (Credit: Landen Kelly)

MAF pilot Mathias Glass flies to Yenkisa (credit: Mandy Glass)

MAF pilot Mathias Glass flying to Yenkisa, Enga Province (credit: Mandy Glass)

Yenkisa is one of nine isolated villages in the region, which is served by Kompiam Aerial Health Patrol. This is a medical outreach where MAF flies out health professionals twice a month from Kompiam Hospital to village clinics to treat hundreds of patients with a range of conditions. Those in need of advanced lifesaving care are medevacked to Kompiam Hospital for further treatment.

In 2019, the Kompiam Aerial Health Patrol to Yenkisa had to be suspended for three months due to intense tribal fighting. It was too dangerous for health professionals to fly out and work there.

Read about Indagen Aerial Health Patrol