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Peace-building in Bougainville

Published on 5th March 2015

Nearly 20 years after the Conflict in Bougainville ended, Sister Lorraine Garasu says the country is experiencing a “negative peace”. There is no fighting anymore, but there is also no healing, and she has devoted herself to building a positive peace in Bougainville, helping its people to overcome the trauma of the Conflict years.

Volunteer Liz Hicks has been working with Sister Lorraine at the Sisters of Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre for the last two years. The Centre runs four safe houses for women and children escaping domestic violence. Beyond the safe houses, Sister Lorraine has campaigned and worked for peace since the Conflict was ongoing.


Sister Lorraine and Liz talk on the back steps of a house, as night falls

Sister Lorraine and Liz Hicks.


Liz says what attracted her to working with Sister Lorraine is her ability to see a problem from all sides. “With the safe houses, yes, she’s the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but she also does [anti-violence] education with men and boys.”


In the past couple of months, Liz has been travelling with Sister Lorraine as she begins a new series of trauma counselling and peace-building sessions. Sister Lorraine identifies key leaders for these sessions, so that they will take what they’ve learnt back to their communities. Liz’s role has been to provide some technical support, and simply to observe the effect these sessions can have.


The first of the trauma counselling sessions took place over two weeks just before Christmas last year. Liz says, “The first session on the Monday afternoon was an art-therapy session. They were given a task to draw pictures of where they were at in their recovery from the Conflict.”


The next morning, Liz says, on just the second day of the course, the group had a recap of Monday’s work. Helen Ikilai, a school teacher and peace-builder from Siwai, stood up and said, “For the first time in 25 years I slept through the night.”


Liz says, “That’s all that had happened – that simple art therapy session. Cheap as chips. Butcher paper that we bought, a box of crayons I brought from my friends in Wellington. And that’s all it took. That was shivers up your spine, I could feel myself wanting to cry. It was so powerful.”


Sister Lorraine has received funding to continue these sessions, choosing key people from across Bougainville. In February, she led the first of her Strategic Peace-Building workshops, which included many of the people who’d attended her trauma counselling session in December, alongside ex-combatants from the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.


Part of moving Bougainville from a negative peace to a positive peace, Sister Lorraine argues, is for ex-combatants to apologise for their role – they have been pardoned and received amnesty, Liz says, but they have not apologised. Helen Ikilai attended this course, too – she witnessed members of the BRA take men from her village 25 years ago, who have never been recovered.


On the Friday afternoon two weeks into the course, Liz says, “Two of the ex-combatants got up and said they were sorry. They apologised to the rest of the people in the room. We were all humbled by that. It’s just amazing. It’s so simple, and not that expensive, and you can shift people that much.”



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