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Self-reliance helped Bougainville survive blockade

Page history last edited by Rosemary 13 years, 4 months ago

Self-reliance helped Bougainvilleans survive blockade

From mid-1990, until the signing of the permanent ceasefire agreement in April 1998, the Bougainville mainland was isolated from the outside world by a PNGDF imposed blockade. This caused severe hardship and thousands of preventable deaths on mainland Bougainville, but also fostered a strong spirit of self-reliance and the development of Bougainville solutions to problems.

In some parts of Bougainville, ingenious appropriate technology was developed such as fuel distilled from coconut milk and small-scale water-powered generators. Communities ran primary healthcare programs that combined western and traditional approaches, and village-based schools and training programs for both children and adults.

Several local organizations grew and provided moral support, training and basic materials for community initiatives that helped to unite communities and people. They operated with minimal outside financial assistance but had links with some Australian aid agencies.

Stories told by Bougainvilleans who made it through the sea blockade to the PNG mainland and Solomon Islands encouraged individuals, church and women’s groups to send clothing, medicines and school materials to the island. PNGDF members contributed to, and sometimes initiated these fundraising efforts. This trickle of humanitarian aid from citizens on the mainland helped re-build trust between ordinary Papua New Guineans.

In Solomon Islands, an inter-church umbrella agency was formed to give assistance for basic medicines to be transported through the blockade. Solomon Islands Churches Association, or HABSICA, with support from Australian and German non-governmental aid agencies, supplied medicines that both saved lives and created the basis for outsiders to contribute to the peace process.

Outside aid also indirectly facilitated and supported key internal peace groups. In August 1996, 700 women from different churches and regions of Bougainville, and a delegation of Australian women, attended a Women's Forum, initiated by Bougainville women and supported by the Bougainville Provincial Government and the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA). The Forum brought together existing voices calling for peace and built trust and relationships between Bougainvillean women and between Australians and Bougainvilleans.

The Women's Forum also provided the media with first-hand information about the situation on Bougainville. Australian NGOs and church agencies formed a coordinating body, the Bougainville Working Group (BWG) that lobbied the Australian Government on the humanitarian crisis and later brought key Bougainville women leaders together for meetings with government and non-government agencies in Australia. The opportunity for community leaders to step out of the crisis and hear different perspectives or participate in training in negotiating and peacebuilding helped support the reconciliation process.

Summarized from: International peacebuilding interventions. Aid as an instrument for peace: a civil society perspective, written by Julie Eagles, who worked with the Australian aid agency Oxfam Community Aid Abroad on its Pacific programs between 1993 and 2001.


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