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FEATURE STORY March 9, 2020

Breaking Barriers in Papua New Guinea: Almah Kuambu


As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, we’re getting to know the pioneering women across the Pacific and Papua New Guinea who are breaking barriers and creating change for the decade ahead. Almah Kuambu is a Technical Advisor with the National Orthotic and Prosthetic Service, where she works to help others with mobility disabilities all across PNG.

Tell us about yourself.

My father comes from West New Britain Province, and my mother is a mix of Southern Highlands Province and Gulf Province. I am the second eldest of six children in my family and I have three sisters and two brothers.

I acquired my physical disability at the age of 11, and I am currently using a prosthetic leg to support my daily mobility.

Growing up with my physical disability was challenging, but my parents inspired me to keep pressing forward and not to give up. My father has been the main driving force behind me because he believed that I had the potential to be just like my siblings despite my physical disability.

My father used to tell me that it’s tough to live in this world as a woman, and that education is essential as it will give you a job and a good life. He used to say that education will make you strong and independent so that you won’t need to depend on someone else to survive.

What did you study?

Given my father’s advice, I undertook three years’ study at the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics. I graduated as a Prosthetist and Orthotist, and joined the National Department of Health in PNG in 2012. I worked on two Australian Aid projects on wheelchairs and assistive devices for people with disabilities, and in 2017 the department appointed me as Technical Advisor for the National Orthotic and Prosthetic Service

What inspires you?

My parents inspire me – I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have them backing me up.

And having support from my superiors inspires me each day to keep working. My job is about improving the quality of life for people with mobility disabilities. The need is quite demanding and it’s quite challenging as the service is not available in all provincial health authorities across the country. 

Each day, I try to provide the best technical advice to the department and work with other partners, locally and internationally, to build and strengthen existing systems for assistive technologies. 

How do you see Pacific women breaking barriers? What does that mean to you? 

I can see that there are more Pacific women participating in different aspects of life, which proves that despite gender women have the ability to work in different areas. I’ve also seen that creating equal opportunities in different aspects of life is allowing more women to display their abilities effectively.

The traditional way of thinking - that women belong in the kitchen or at home - is changing fast as more women venture into male-dominated areas. Promoting, protecting and respecting the rights of women allows them to become aware, and encourages women to speak out. 

In my experience, working alongside male colleagues, I’ve seen that it takes male champions to look beyond gender. It means a lot when I’m not discriminated against because of my gender, and I feel encouraged to keep working hard. It also means that I can encourage and build up my female colleagues. 

Do you have a favourite quote or saying?

John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. I love this quote as it reflects the work I do every day. I want to help reach more people in remote places in PNG that still haven’t received the right kind of assistive technology to support their day-to-day mobility. 

Where do you see PNG and PNG women in 25 years?

I believe women will be more empowered, strong and self-reliant, and contributing to the country’s development through their expertise, in both the formal and informal sectors.

What do you think is needed in PNG to further equality between men and women?

Firstly, there should be zero discrimination based on gender, age and disability. Equal opportunities should be given to citizens from the national to the local level. 

Secondly, PNG should look at the strengths of its citizens in terms of skills and knowledge, and build upon them. This will lead to new ideas and strategies that allow people to venture into new opportunities. 

If you could use one word to describe women in the Pacific what would it be?


What is your hope for Pacific women in the future?

That Pacific women are protected, their rights are promoted and respected, and equal opportunity is given to all regardless of gender, age or disability.


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**The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.