Changing lives in PNG

“I am very passionate about this work because I grew up in a community that didn’t have water and now my own people have access to a good water supply, improved sanitation and practice good hygiene behaviours. Being able to go to my village and see that because of water, sanitation and hygiene that there is a big change in my community, that is what motivates me to do this work.”

Norma Sagom is WaterAid Papua New Guinea’s Health Advocacy Advisor. From Wewak in East Sepik Province, Norma has almost 30 years’ experience in both the health sector and in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector in PNG, spending more than two decades working for the Department of Health.

Pursing her interest in development, Norma spent another three years working for the World Health Organization’s malaria program, but Norma’s true passion lies in water, sanitation and hygiene, where she has worked on programs for the European Development Fund and has been a valued member of the WaterAid PNG staff since 2012.

“In Papua New Guinea women and girls often have to walk long distances to collect water. Sometimes girls don’t go to school because there is not enough water at home and they help their mothers to collect water. For girls going to school during their menstrual cycle is difficult as there is no good water supply and poor toilet facilities at schools for managing their menstrual hygiene, so they stay at home. If girls cannot continue school, they can’t advance their education or employment and have to stay in their villages,” says Norma.

In a country where 60 per cent of people don’t have access to water and 81 per cent don’t have access to sanitation there is a lot of work to do.

Papua New Guinea has recently taken a major step in the right direction with the passing of their first national water, sanitation and hygiene policy. Thanks to persistent discussions between WaterAid, other organisations and the Papua New Guinean government, the leaders of the country have now given domestic political priority to bringing safe water, sanitation and hygiene to more people.

WaterAid was able to convince the local government of the necessity of addressing water, sanitation and hygiene issues for its people as exemplified in our work in the Sepik region and for gender, equity and social inclusion considerations. This achievement is a milestone for the government of Papua New Guinea towards improving the delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene services for its people.

The passing of this policy is thanks to passionate people like Norma who are determined to see change. “When people try to do new things and they don’t make it happen they give up, I don’t live like that. I try and do it again so that I achieve something. I want things done properly.”

Norma and our WaterAid Papua New Guinea Country Representative are on the government’s water, sanitation and hygiene taskforce and will play a role in bringing awareness to local governments in the areas where we work and in the policy roll out.

Norma is working with the government to imbed water, sanitation and hygiene into health and education priorities. She is working with the education department to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene information is provided to schools and included in the curriculum.

Another priority is ensuring water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are in health facilities, particularly where women are delivering babies, to help improve the health of mothers and babies.

“WaterAid is where my heart is. It is my dream job. The good thing I like about WaterAid is that it is an organisation that is known across the world and the sector. We have a lot to impart. WaterAid has a high reputation in WASH. I’ve worked with government I know what the issues are and how to work across organisations,” says Norma of her work.

Those without access to safe water and sanitation are in good hands with Norma on their side. “I try to do new things and make sure they are successful and I want to see them replicated across the country and in our partners’ work.”

There is no stopping Norma in her mission. She presented at an event on “WASH, Women and Girls” at Parliament House with Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in March 2015 and discussed the challenges of lack of water and sanitation in Papua New Guinea.

“The biggest challenge was getting the PNG government to see WASH as a priority. There are still lots of work to be done. I need to move things forward.”

Norma speaking with Julie Bishop - Australian foreign minister
Norma Sagom discusses the challenges of lack of water and sanitation with Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: WaterAid/