Helen Mills, Liz Weeks, and Bougainville-born Therese Kemelfield ran a training event for Creators of Peace facilitators in Bougainville in May. They travelled from Australia at the invitation of the women of the Teop Taonita Creators of Peace Circle Association to facilitate two Peace Circles and deliver five days of facilitation training.
'Peace starts within. Peace comes from the heart,' the late Susan Kukiti of the Solomon Islands once observed. Kukiti, a South Seas Evangelical Church pastor, was an advocate and facilitator of Creators of Peace Circles as a healing tool for her country after civil war. In a similar vein, the Bougainville program aimed at equipping women and men with skills for peace building, as Bougainville moves towards an referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea in 2019.
The workshops took place in the beautiful seaside village of Teop Boana, with 21 women and four men in the Peace Circles, then 13 women and three men in the facilitation training. ‘The local people have few material resources to draw from, but their greatest resource is their own determination, courage and faith,’ observed Helen Mills. Initiatives of Change Australia, through various funds, contributed to make the workshops possible.
The training brought to fruition the work of Rita Pearson, project officer of the Teop Taonita CoP Association, and her husband Michael, who hosted the trainers at their family compound, ‘Both were very generous with their own limited resources,’ said Liz. She recalls how she and Helen often finished preparations for the next day by torchlight.
The daily routine began with worship with prayer and song. ‘Our Western-style timetables took on flexibility with some participants on Papua New Guinea time and some on Bougainville time - an hour’s difference - and not a watch to be seen,’ said Helen. The afternoon heat and humidity also meant the group gathered under the shade of trees or closer to the sea breezes. Programme lengths were also changed to accommodate the energy of the participants.
During the ten ‘Crisis’ years in the 1990’s, schools were closed. The trainers noted that the edited Creators of Peace Circle manual in simpler English were helpful for instruction, and gave the manuals as gifts to all those who completed the facilitation training. The participants came from nine or ten local village groups, including four from the nearby mountain region. One man walked four hours over a high range to represent his village. Some were pastors, some local magistrates, teachers and respected elders in their villages.
At the end of the facilitation training, five groups planned to facilitate Circles in their areas, each with clear ideas of what would work best for their people. Many felt they needed to be better listeners, to develop inner listening skills, to become better role models, to start a change process within themselves, to make a beginning with their families, and to find inner peace and practise forgiveness in their communities.
Two men told of families from two villages who are involved in a cycle of payback over many years, around the practise of sorcery and houses being burnt in revenge, even a death recently. Their intention was to meet with one group of men and encourage mediation, then to move to the second group, and thereby find a suitable ‘middle’ place where both groups can come together to participate in a Peace Circle, facilitated by them.
At the closing ceremony, Rita Pearson spoke passionately about the Creators of Peace Circles and pleaded for ongoing financial support from IofC for their Peace Circle outreach. Therese reflected that she was excited to return to her birthplace to participate in Peace Circles, as she ‘struggled to build peace within after I left my island home years ago. But I have re-found my inner peace.’ She expressed her feelings through her poetry:
‘Women of Bougainville
Mothers of our beautiful islands
You are so resilient, strong and inclusive
You continue to build peace.’
Whilst the material was presented in English, most of the story-sharing and discussions occurred in Pidgin. Rita and Therese acted as facilitators as well as translators for Liz and Helen. ‘Therese’s presence was a gift. We learnt much from her insights and local understanding,’ said Liz.Helen is grateful to IofC for backing the venture, and for the prayers of many friends ‘who care deeply for the Pacific region.’ Liz is grateful for 'the amazing weekend experiences – instant glorious harmony in church celebrating Mother’s Day; a flat tyre in the mountains necessitating walking one and a half hours, crossing two rivers; the humbling experience of customary washing of feet before entering a village meeting place for a sumptuous Sunday lunch; wading across a wide reef at low tide to Teop Island, Rita’s childhood home.' She adds that, 'Many asked when will we come back. It’s a hanging question.’ - Zohra Aly