VSA has been in Bougainville since 1998 following a decade of conflict that left the region with virtually no economic activity, closed schools and minimal health provision. VSA’s programme initially focused on responding to the immediate needs of a post-conflict society. Our volunteers now work with the Autonomous Bougainville Government and non-government organisations to support the delivery of public services, enable community development, and secure livelihoods for rural people. VSA has a field office in Arawa and a sub office in Buka, staffed by a Country Programme Manager.
Norah Riddick is working as a physiotherapist working with Callan Services in Bougainville. She will complete her assignment in December 2013. View Profile
Geographically, Bougainville is closer to the Solomon Islands but politically it has been part of Papua New Guinea (PNG) since 1899. Separated both geographically and culturally from mainland PNG, and made up of Bougainville and Buka Islands, the 10-year conflict left half the population displaced and communities divided. Today, the region is still classified as a post-conflict society.
Fundamental to Bougainville culture is the wantok system. Wantok, or ‘one talk’, refers to the people who speak your language – essentially your extended family/clan; people’s primary loyalty will be to their wantoks. The region is predominantly Christian, made up mostly of Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist and United Church congregations.
Strengthening economic development through basic skills training, livelihood opportunities and transport infrastructure remain key priorities. Social development problems following the civil conflict are huge. There is a need to strengthen the Government, Council of Elders and other civil society organisations to develop democratic, transparent systems, re-establishing law and justice systems and building social cohesion. The delivery of both education and health services were badly hit during the conflict and now restructuring and improving management and delivery of these services are a priority.
Kapiti Coast builder Barry Binding leaves today (May 2) to spend six weeks as a VSA (Volunteer Service Abroad) volunteer,... Read More
VSA assignments usually last two years, so local language training is important. We provide basic language training (tok pisin) at the start of assignments with follow-ups if necessary during assignment. Understanding local customs is vital to a successful assignment. Bougainville is typical of many developing countries where people do not usually approach things head on. Talking about family and local issues is often required before getting down to discussing what you as a volunteer may want.
We provide volunteers with basic, furnished accommodation but you may be asked to share accommodation with other volunteers as there is a shortage of housing, especially in Buka. All volunteer housing has gas facilities for cooking but most rely on rainwater for water supply, so be aware of your water use. In Buka and Arawa, you’ll probably have access to 24-hour power although power outages are a regular occurrence. If you are based elsewhere, access to power and services is more limited and will be generator-based, available for certain times during the day.
Bougainville is still a post-conflict society and there are more restrictions on how volunteers are able to move around than in other locations. It is recommended that you do not go out alone a night, so a good supply of books, DVDs or games may be required. Social activities normally associated with New Zealand society are limited, although swimming, canoeing, fishing and snorkelling are available.
Bougainville is a conservative region and some Western-style clothing is not appropriate. Loose-fitting, light, cotton clothing is best. For men, choose long pants, knee-length shorts and short-sleeved shirts. For women, dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn – sleeveless shirts are also acceptable. Don’t expose skin above the knee though, especially when attending traditional events. Women should wear shorts and a t-shirt while swimming.
Malaria is endemic in Bougainville and all volunteers must use malarial prophylaxis. Other precautions are still recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves / trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in villages. Skin infections can develop quickly so have a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics. There is a public hospital in Buka, and both Arawa and Buin have health centres, with smaller centres scattered around the islands. Health care is basic and you’ll need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.
We provide all selected volunteers with a thorough security briefing and specific local issues are covered during your in-country orientation. Generally, the post-conflict nature of Bougainville means you’ll need to be aware of your surroundings and make sensible decisions on personal safety. Land ownership is complex and strangers cannot wander freely through private or empty land without first seeking permission. Take care when walking alone and avoid this at night. Walking in Buka or Arawa during the day is quite safe and there is a NZ Community Policing Project operating in both towns.
There are two banks in Bougainville: the Bank of the South Pacific (BSP) in Buka and Arawa. Long queues are common. We open a local bank account for all volunteers once they arrive in Bougainville where monthly living allowances are paid into. Debit cards are available and there are ATM/Quickcash machines at the bank. A small number of guesthouses accept foreign credit cards, as do Air Nuigini. Local currency is the Kina. Visit XE.com for current exchange rates.
Bougainville has two cellular providers, B-Mobile and Digicel. Coverage is generally good within urban areas but fades quickly as you move to rural locations. International connections, though, can be unreliable especially during the day when sent text messages can fail or take hours to get through. Internet connection is very limited compared to New Zealand. There are two internet cafes in Buka and a communications centre in Arawa, but connections are not reliable and internet speed (generally dial up) is slow. Telikom and Digicel have USB modems available, costing around PKG199 and then PGK2 per MB of downloads.