Mary Balupa is an ambitious advocate for the elimination of violence against women, girls and children. She has contributed enormously not only to the training of nurses on counselling skills but also to the establishment of Family Support Centres in Southern Highlands Province since last year.

Mary holds a Bachelor of Nursing and has worked in the Mental Health Department at Mendi General Hospital for more than 20 years – eight of which she has dedicated to the Family Support Centre.

Recognising the importance of mental health, Mary applied for an Australia Awards PNG scholarship through Short Course Awards. She recently obtained a Graduate Certificate in Counselling enabling her to continue to provide quality counselling and engagement with clients.

She faces every day the challenges of complex cases of violence against women, girls and children. She described her experience: “I saw the tears in the eyes of children who were neglected because of violent relationships. I understand them well because I am a survivor too, with my children.”

Mary’s extensive experience pushed her to acquire advanced counselling skills to deal with survivors of violence, as she believes that awareness and counselling are the core to eliminating violence and preventing survivors from developing a mental illness. Through the Australia Awards scholarship, Mary has fulfilled her ambition.

The counselling skills acquired from this course have improved her communication skills and the way she approaches people. “I am using these skills to help provide [better] quality psychological care to my patients than before. I have learned a lot, but what I am using daily with my patients is the micro counselling skills.”

Not only did Mary learn about the counselling skills, but she also changed her approach from the treatment of mental illness to the prevention of the disease.

With this new approach, Mary has taught 28 other nurses in Mendi about counselling skills and contributed to establishing 16 Family Support Centres in the Southern Highlands Province.

For Mary, educating nurses with counselling skills would enable them to reach more people in places that she can’t go.

 “I empathise with mothers and children in the rural communities, especially those who cannot come to a bigger hospital to access services – they are silently suffering in the rural communities. Some may have died without being helped. I would like to reach out to them in my career pathway.”

Her tireless effort in advocating for quality services has led to counselling support. Today, she collaborates with the Mental Health Department at Mendi General Hospital to raise awareness on social issues, including mental illnesses arising from violence.

“I’ve seen that working with key professionals in the mental health space has helped shift mindsets to look beyond illness and take on board prevention,” says Mary.

“We want to set a way forward for the future so that new graduates in the field of counselling and mental health can follow,” says Mary.