Beginning Our Partner Visits

Hello everyone! After helping to coordinate our program launch, we were quickly off and running to the next activities planned during the field visits – partner assessments. I had already been working with Ali and the WPBI program staff to introduce them to Counterpart’s organizational development methods, and it was time to begin meeting with our local partners.

Counterpart International has a number of organizations who are going to be working with us to implement three types of grants:

  • A Trauma Counseling/Mental Health Services Support Grant will support trauma counseling services for ex-combatants and civilians, particularly women and children as well as for the development of a comprehensive trauma case management system for Bougainville.
  • A Family and Sexual Violence Prevention grants will support family and sexual violence prevention and treatment and support CSOs to engage communities in prevention activities, providing treatment to domestic and sexual violence survivors, strengthening rehabilitation treatment networks, improving collaboration on domestic and sexual violence issues, developing prevention strategies, and funding awareness initiatives.
  • An ARB National Action Plan Awareness and Implementation grant will assist with the process of updating and enhancing the implementation strategy and timeline for the ARB-National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. We are also very excited about the building of a Youth Network to support this plan.

Although we are still in the process of finalizing our partners and our grant agreements, we are conducting assessments with the finalists to ensure their readiness to work with us and begin the organizational capacity building process that will be an integral component of these grants.

Bougainville Women’s Federation

First, we visited an organization called the Bougainville Women’s Federation (BWF). Established in 2008, the BWF is a coalition of women’s groups, and its primary mission is to build productive communities through networking and strengthening them as active agents of change to achieve their vision. Based in the capital of Buka, BWF is formed of a collection of 13 district and three regional member organizations.

The BWF office is on the second floor of the blue building on the right
The BWF office is on the second floor of the blue building on the right

The four of us crowded into the BWF office in downtown Buka, visiting with Hona, the BWF President, as well as the Finance Manager and Administrative Officer. In addition to reviewing the organization’s systems and procedures, we discussed the work the organization is doing to support other women’s groups as well as directly benefit women and children throughout Bougainville.

BWF has been helping local women’s groups to build their organizational strengths by helping them to develop operational plans and improve their financial management skills through trainings. They are also conducting trainings to develop small business skills for local women throughout Bougainville, teaching women how to sew and cook for commercial purposes. They conduct Human Rights and Gender Equality advocacy campaigns, including school programs, local festivals, and participating in the global 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women.

Hona (left)
Hona (left)

Hona explained that the BWF is also partnering with the International Women’s Development Association (IWDA), and they’ve been doing some great work! Hona – whose face was framed by a wild burst of hair and would smile wide as she spoke – is an energetic, enthusiastic, and committed leader. She described the BWF’s work to support large numbers of women’s groups throughout Bougainville. She’s excited for the BWF to begin working with us as well increasing women’s organization’s ability to reduce family and sexual violence in Bougainville.

Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre

After meeting with the BWF, we traveled across Buka Passage by boat and then took a car about an hour south to Chabai, where the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) is located. Founded in 2001 and led by Sister Lorraine Garasu, the NRC is focused on addressing gender-based violence and provides services to survivors, particularly women and children. In addition to serving as a safe house, counseling, and training center, the NRC coordinates three additional safe houses in other areas – Arawa, Buin and Hahela. The NRC provides counseling services and training in trauma counseling, rehabilitation, and leadership. They focus on human rights, therapy and recovery, and women’s access to justice.

The NRC is a part of the Diocese of Bougainville, and we spent the afternoon interviewing the Sisters who volunteer their time to live and work at the center, serving as financial managers, counselors, trainers, cooks, and administrative support. We also toured the centre, made up of a series of different small buildings—an administrative office, a few different houses or dorms, a kitchen, and a training facility. Some of the older buildings were made of what they call “bush materials,” constructed from rough hewn branches, banana leaf roofs, and often open air. More recent buildings had been constructed through the generosity of donors like AusAid, and were solid construction on raised stilts with glass windows, wood floors, and window screens.

Sister Margaret

One of the sisters we interviewed was Sister Margaret, who is one of the primary counselors for the centre. She not only described her process of helping women, but she talked about how the centre began because she originally had a dream of helping young women in need, particularly unwed mothers, through a centre such as this one. She connected with Sister Lorraine, who provided impressive leadership and fundraising abilities, and eventually the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre was born! The mission expanded to help women and children who had experienced violence because it continues to be such a large problem in Bougainville, particularly after the Crisis. But the NRC doesn’t just help women and girls – they have also been helping boys and young men with substance abuse problems, and they are housed in a separate building on the property. To continue their work helping boys, Sister Lorraine has been working with members of the congregation and community to set up another centre in Marbury that will soon open and provide similar space for men and boys.

Sister Tekka and Ali
Sister Tekka and Ali

We spent the majority of our time with Sister Bernadette and Sister Tekka, who manage the centre’s finances. They were delightful! Sister Bernadette was quiet, but would give us a mischievous look and laugh when she thought we were being funny. Sister Tekka – a slight woman with very dark skin and a few curls of gray and black that escaped her white habit – particularly had a contagious sense of humor and a funny, high-pitched cackle that would set us all off into peals of laughter. She insisted on laying out an enormous welcoming tea with homemade cookies and muffins, bananas and pomelo (which tasted like a sweet grapefruit) grown on the property, coffee, sodas, and water. She also enjoyed chatting with us, telling us about life in Bougainville—including her time living and working in the area where there’s an active volcano and how afraid she was of the smoke and lava that would come out, though she laughed throughout the telling of her story. We compared tattoos—she showed me hers, and I showed her mine—and we laughed about how we both did them when we were young and silly. When Ali and I joked that we couldn’t see where our other program staff had walked to and that we might have to stay there and become nuns, Sister Tekka laughed and exclaimed, “You should! You would look beautiful in a habit! We had Australian nuns visit us, and they looked lovely in their habits.” We were having such a good time that we were sad to part when it was time to go, but I’m glad to have made a few new friends. I’m glad that there will be more opportunities to visit. I look forward to returning, hopefully to continue building the partnership our organizations have begun.

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