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Published on 24th November 2010
Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) and former volunteers have offered to provide back-up files and other assistance to one of their partner organisations in Bougainville that lost almost everything in a devastating office fire earlier this month (November 2010).
Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency (LNWDA) staffs watched helplessly as their offices were consumed by fire on November 2nd, erasing 20 years of work and records - and leaving the NGO without a home.
VSA’s in-country manager Murray Benbow says the fire was a real shock however, with no fire brigades in Bougainville; disastrous fires are part of life. He says VSA was in the throes of organising another assignment for a volunteer with the organisation but it may have to be put on hold until the agency gets back on its feet. VSA has copies of some files for the partner organisation in its Bougainville office.
New Zealand VSA volunteers have been working with Leitana Nehan Women’s Development for several years. The NGO was founded at the height of the 10-year Bougainville conflict to provide humanitarian aid to women and children who were victims of the conflict. LNWDA now provides a wide range of activities including counselling for victims of violence, health awareness workshops, and advocacy for women and children’s rights. As one of the largest and longest established NGOs in Bougainville, LNWDA provides capacity building support to other, newer, organisations and takes a leading role in networking and co-ordinating with others. There are 11 staff based in the Buka office and 36 volunteer counsellors spread throughout the 13 districts of Bougainville.
The head of the agency, Helen Hakena told Radio New Zealand International funding from AUSAID and the New Zealand Government’s International aid and development programme enabled LNWDA to be built and stocked with equipment and it will be very difficult to start again from scratch. “Particularly losing all the documents, all our annual reports, all our policies, all our audited reports, everything - it is gone. But what we are saying is that we are still strong, we have got our hands, our feet, we’ve got our hearts; we still are dedicated and committed to continuing the work that we have lost. Everything is not lost, we are thankful that we are all safe.”
Neil Brosnahan of Christchurch has been working with LNWDA for the last couple of years as a management adviser to strengthen the agency's ability to manage its programme and resources. During the same time, Lesley Young of Auckland has been on assignment with the organisation working on domestic violence response and training.
Neil says life is difficult for people in Bougainville who are still recovering from years of civil war – but it’s especially hard for those who are victims of violence. “LNWDA is one of the few organisations providing a vital service trying to reduce violence as well as meet the needs of victims. I’m concerned this fire will mean the organisation will struggle to provide services to those who most need them.”
Bougainville people have had to develop resilience through the civil war, however Neil says these events all have a personal and community cost. “Bougainville is trying to build itself up again, and LNWDA has an important part to play in this as a leading NGO that often gets asked to contribute to province wide activities such as building democracy.”
Neil and his wife Niki Hannan, who was also in Bougainville, are planning to buy a laptop and load it up with the latest accounting systems to help LNWDA get back on their feet. Lesley Young, who has also just returned from Bougainville, has set up a fund for LNWDA’s recovery through the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). It will accept donations on behalf of the Bougainville NGO. Please be sure to note the payment is for Bougainville. Cheques, made out to WILPF Auckland can be sent to 3A Highwic Ave, Epsom1051, Auckland - or payments can me made direct to the WILPF bank account: BNZ 02-0240-0156143-000
For more about the fire and firsthand comments read VSA’s in-country manager in Bougainville Murray Benbow’s account and interview with Helen Hakena.