Couppé Safe House provides Hope for Women in ENB
East New Britain: Like many other places in Papua New Guinea where Family Sexual Violence and child abuse is a pressing issue that affects many families in the communities, Kokopo is no exception. Survivors are further victimized when they do not know where or how to get help.
Couppé Safe House provides a sanctuary for women and children who have experienced family or sexual violence. Survivors are able to access services such as healthcare, police and legal aid. It is the only safe house in the province.
Sister Sarah, a member of the local Congregation, Filiae Mariae Imaculata (FMI) is the Coordinator. “I really enjoy the work, despite challenges, I feel that this is my call and mission,” she stated.
Nestled among the elegant candle trees in the heart of Vunapope, the Safe House is beautiful in its simplicity: two containers 15 metres apart, joined in the middle by a deck and a roof over the entire building. It has three bedrooms down one side for privacy, with the toilets, kitchen, counselling room and office down the other.
Sister Sarah says it has plenty of room to throw extra mattresses down if they’re required; the rest of the time, guests can use the central area “to chat with other people in the same situation as them.”
When asked about challenges she is facing, she tells of the first encounter when a perpetrator took them to court. The Safe House was blamed for stealing the wife and children. The Court ruled in favor of the Safe House giving legal protection for the mother and child. Seeing the happiness on the faces of the mother and child gave so much motivation to Sister Sarah. She continued advocating for the safety of women and children.
As a practical woman, Sr. Sarah helps survivors to help themselves with food. The back of the Safe Haus has lots of space for growing cabbages. “The gardens provide healing for the survivors as well,” she said.
The first survivor to be housed in the Safe House was Grace who found hope with Sister Sarah.
“I thought I was going to die. I found hope in Sister Sarah and the Safe House, she was the beacon of light for me,” said Grace, the first survivor.
“When my husband locked me in the room for two weeks without food and outside communication, I told myself this is the end,” she said.
Grace is a strong woman after finding healing with the safety provided. To this day she has become an example of empowerment for other women in the villages. Grace works with Sister Sarah in providing counselling and advocacy in connection with the Family Sexual Violence Action Committee (FSVAC).
Having had no experience of managing the Safe House, the FMI Sisters have been trained as full-time staff, and the ENB FSVAC is working on a referral pathway network between service providers to ensure holistic care for survivors.
The Training was conducted in 2021 by Femili PNG, an NGO that works to improve responses to family and sexual violence. The objective of the training was to educate and generate interest on the issue of FSV, empower participants to advocate for a violence-free society, emphasize and strengthen the referral pathway, and educate the safe house staff and partners on how to deal and cope with trauma when assisting FSV survivors.
With the assistance of the Archdiocese of Rabaul, Volunteer Services Abroad (VSA) and many kind people, the Safe House has assisted 145 women and 165 children.
The Safe House was blessed on December 6, 2018 by His Grace Archbishop Francesco Panfilo SDB in the presence of the New Zealand High Commissioner.