Due to the security situation and due to infrastructure concerns, Ali and I were not able to travel all the way to the southern tip of Bougainville to the town of Buin. Instead, WPBI Chief of Party, Wilson, and M&E Manager, Tom, traveled there to conduct the partner assessment. Ali and I were sad that we weren’t able to join them on the visit because we would have liked to see another part of Bougainville and meet this organization, but we had been advised not to go. We were glad to hear Wilson and Tom report on a good visit when they got back.
Instead, Ali and I coordinated the assessment work from Buka in addition to reaching out to some of the other international organizations who are also working in Bougainville and are also based in the capital. In recent years, Bougainville has been gaining attention and support from more organizations who wish to support the region’s development in areas ranging from climate change and environmental sustainability, disaster risk response and resilience, gender-based violence reduction, health care service improvement, peace building, law and justice strengthening, and more.
In listening to one program manager describe her project’s work on disaster risk and response, I recalled a conversation with a WPBI partner organization who we had asked about security or disaster plans related to some of the environmental risks in Bougainville (this area is prone to volcano eruptions and, even more frequently, earthquakes and typhoons). This organization had no plan in place nor resources to help them should something occur. The organizations’ leader explained that while such a plan and the resources are desired, not only did the region have no early warning system to let them know that a typhoon was coming, but the community also had no way of learning about a warning even if it was issued by the government or other entity—no TV, only a few had radios, and certainly no Internet. The ones who owned cell phones got limited service. Any plan that is developed would need to be strengthened by the support of a larger infrastructure or framework. It is impossible not to think about the contrast of this situation with the luxuries many of us live by in the Western world, with so much advance notice of weather events as well as lots of resources to help recover when disaster strikes.
I’m glad that other organizations are working to help the ARB Government and local communities identify practical methods for addressing serious issues that are not covered under my organization’s particular program but are just as important. I hope that we’ll be able to continue to identify ways for our organizations to share information and collaborate so that each of our programs helps support the other and that each of these communities is empowered to identify their needs as well as the resources they can use to address those needs.
Once Wilson and Tom returned to Buka, we had one more partner visit to conduct.
Bougainville Family Support Centre
We visited the Bougainville Family Support Centre (FSC), which is housed in and supported by the Buka General Hospital. The FSC is one of a network of Family Support Centres, envisioned and established by the Papua New Guinea Department of Health in just the past couple of years. The Department of Health sought to establish a series of centers that could serve as “one-stop shops” that provide integrated services to victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, offering medical care and STI/HIV testing and prophylaxis, psychological counseling, evidence collection, access to police and legal services, and social services. So far, there are approximately 10 regional centers in Papua New Guinea, but only one in Bougainville. The Department of Health has plans to establish more, particularly in places that can serve more rural populations, where the need is very high but access to healthcare is incredibly limited.
The Bougainville FCS is run by a coordinating committee composed of members of the hospital administration, Bougainville government officials from health and community development ministries, senior leadership from local women’s organizations, and senior leaders of the law and justice sector. They not only work to strengthen the FCS, but to strengthen these different service sectors as well as cooperation among them.
The FCS also works in partnership with such local civil society organizations as Leitana Nehan, the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre, and Catholic Safe Houses as well as with such government institutions as the Court Systems, the Police Service, and the Community Development Division’s Welfare Section in order to provide additional, long-term support.
Currently, the FCS is operating out of a small, brightly painted green house on the grounds of Buka General Hospital. It was built with through generous donations by UNICEF as well as AusAID, the Ministry of Law and Justice, Digicel (the PNG mobile phone operator), and FSVAC/CIMC (the PNG government body for Family and Sexual Violence), but its operating costs are funded through the ABG. Outside of an administrative assistant, Sister Essah Barnabas is currently the centre’s the lone staff member and is a trained psychiatric nurse. She is short, with coffee-and-cream colored skin and a few tattoos on her forehead – about line of short vertical lines that are marked in the center of her forehead, crossing above her eyebrows. She has a warm and welcoming smile as well as the ability to immediately put visitors at ease. We usually see her in a white nurses’ uniform and habit, though occasionally she’ll appear in a brightly colored skirt and blouse. “Sister” is an honorary term in Bougainville for both nuns and nurses, so while I haven’t directly inquired, I believe in her case it is the latter.
When a client requires medical care, Sister Essah calls for one of the hospital doctors, but otherwise she provides intake, counseling, and referral for all the clients. She has some back-up support from volunteers and from a referral support network, but Sister Essah is the primary person who runs the center and provides treatment to those who seek help. The FSC is currently seeking to hire a social worker, but the centre clearly needs additional staff, as she described the frequency with which women arrive at the centre seeking help.
The FCS is clearly a small center working to meet a great need, so there is much to do and much support is needed. But it has already made a great deal of headway in one short year, and their work to integrate services and coordinate among many different organizational bodies is an impressive and important model.