Published on 31st July 2017
Richard and Ann Green first lived in Bougainville in the 1980s, before the 10-year conflict that is estimated to have cost 15,000-20,000 lives. Recently returning as volunteers, three decades later, was emotional and rewarding.
“Bougainville is a part of our lives... our children were raised here, we had a very happy time,” Ann Green says. When she and husband Richard returned to Bougainville in 2015 as VSA volunteers, it was Ann’s first trip back since they left. Richard was a Chief Engineer for six years with the Government before the crisis, and afterwards was contracted by the NZ Aid Programme to do an infrastructure assessment of Bougainville in 1998 and again in 2001.
Richard found that the change was not just in the physical damage done to the island, but the psychological damage to its people. Ann says, even now, “the mental damage to the people is quite evident. A lot of the issues haven’t been addressed.” Richard adds he’s now “more convinced than ever that war isn’t a solution for anything.”
In their volunteer roles, Richard worked as an Engineering Adviser with Bougainville Earthworks Ltd (BEW), and Ann as a Physiotherapy Trainer at Arawa Health Centre. Though they both made huge contributions through their assignments, their lasting connection to this beautiful place is evident in the other work they’ve done within the local community.
Richard recently carried out another six-month assignment with Bougainville Earthworks, and Ann spent time at the Arawa Health Centre again. In her time there, she helped establish protocols to diagnose club feet early and lift treatment to an international standard.
Beyond this, she recognised the links that exist between Bougainville and New Zealand following the peace process, in which New Zealand played a visible, respected part. So many Bougainvilleans made connections with Kiwis and Australians in that time, she says, but they’ve lost touch. Ann was able to help reconnect them, by scanning and emailing handwritten letters. “It reconnected Bougainvilleans with people in New Zealand and Australia,” she says, “and as Bougainville becomes more internet enabled, that connection will grow.” In her spare time, Ann also started an aerobics class with members of staff at Arawa Health Centre.
Richard, likewise, was never lost for opportunities to contribute. He leant his engineering expertise to other organisations, including the Arawa Health Centre and the Arawa Urban Council, and worked with VSA’s Bougainville Programme Manager Paul Bedggood. Paul says, “Richard has been instrumental in the rejuvenation of the VSA programme in Arawa. Richard and Ann have helped Chris [Rimats, Bougainville Programme Officer] and I move out of the VSA house/office we had in Arawa for 16 years, he’s assisted me with assignment design and scoping and has generally just been a great source of counsel. “Our programme has been very fortunate to have this couple around for the last two years.”
Richard also made links between the Rotary club in Arawa and Rotarians in Queensland. “We were able to organise medical supplies to be brought in and distributed to medical centres in the central region.”
Ann says, “Richard is downplaying his role in that – he started the local community Rotary.” Nearly 20 years on from the ceasefire, Richard says his great concern for Bougainville is the lack of opportunities for young people. “Young men and women who want to further their education in some way don’t have many options.”
He has spent time researching what New Zealand scholarships are available for engineering, construction, quarrying and mining, and has helped interested Bougainvilleans write applications. But, he says, what is really needed is on-the-job training and apprenticeships – so he urges anyone with the ability to provide training to look for opportunities to do so. By 2019, Bougainville will be going to the polls to vote on whether to become independent from Papua New Guinea.
“Whichever way the referendum goes, they’re going to need builders.”