(pacific_media_watch) 4570 BOUGAINVILLE: Comment - Scars of conflict

Submitted by Editor on Tue, 16/11/2004 - 02:11

Quote: AUCKLAND (Post-Courier/Pacific Media Watch): After 16 years working in Africa, I felt I was prepared for Bougainville.

I had seen the remnants of war in communities. I had witnessed what genocide, violence and deprivation can do to individuals.

But Bougainville is different. No one has come away unscathed.

Asia-Pacific Network
Pacific Media Watch

Title -- 4570 BOUGAINVILLE: Comment - Scars of conflict
Date -- 15 November 2004
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- PNG Post-Courier 15/11/2004
Copyright - PC
Status -- Unabridged


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By Deborah Snelson,
of NZ's Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA)

AUCKLAND (Post-Courier/Pacific Media Watch): After 16 years working in Africa, I felt I was prepared for Bougainville.

I had seen the remnants of war in communities. I had witnessed what genocide, violence and deprivation can do to individuals.

But Bougainville is different. No one has come away unscathed.

Before the hostilities boiled over in 1989, Bougainville was Papua New Guinea's richest province and reportedly had the most effective local government. The Australian-run copper mine - which became the focus of discontent - had brought roads, buildings and sophisticated commerce.

It also brought a massive population influx to these already disgruntled islands, took a large portion of its profits offshore and had a huge environmental impact.

The civil war that this sparked saw the complete collapse of Bougainville's infrastructure and during the 10 years of war, the deaths of around 10,000 of its 160,000 people.

Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) has been in Bougainville since the New Zealand-brokered peace and is the largest development agency working to help reconstruct this traumatised society.

Bougainville is also VSA's flagship program - where all theories about partnering communities and building on assignments, volunteering within the community are put rigorously to the test.

We have been part of helping young men who knew nothing but war, learn trades and go on to train others - literally rebuilding all that has been lost.

We have been part of reducing infant mortality and setting up health centres. We have been part of making schools self-sufficient.

We have also helped sow the seeds of a tourist industry and partnered women's groups. Which is how I came to meet Francisca Sala.

Four years into Bougainville's civil war, Francisca was forced to leave an unweaned baby to flee in a clandestine mercy dash to Solomon Islands to give birth to her fifth child.

A strict blockade kept her and her family in Honiara for a year. When they returned, the toddler she left behind didn't recognise her parents or siblings and continued to live with an aunt.

It took four heartbreaking years for the child to acknowledge her parents and even today - 10 years on - she stands aside from her family, quietly observing her siblings.

With the help of a VSA volunteer, Francisca has been creating a centre for the island's orphaned children.

"Most of the children we talk with have no memory of the 'good times' before their world was turned upside down and no understanding of where to start the healing process," she told me.

My visit reinforced how important it is that non-governmental organisations like VSA commit to the long-haul and support that healing process: a healing that involves not only people - young and old - but relationships, systems and infrastructure.

Ultimately, success can only be measured in the eyes of the people of Bougainville who are beginning to see a future that is their own.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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