– by Kundi Lay, International Projects Supervisor.
If we were in any doubt about the impact CUFA’s projects can have on a developing region, look no further than Bougainville, where the Pathways for Youth program has just kicked off.
My trip to the heart of the region last month taught me three important things: the impact a helping hand can give to a developing region like this, the sheer commitment of local communities – and that first impressions are not always the lasting ones.
Arriving at the CUFA office in Arawa late in the evening, there were young people everywhere, sitting in groups chewing betel nut and drinking local alcohol. I was told that most of these young people had given up schooling and were unemployed.
The fact is that the autonomous region of Bougainville – less than two hours flight time from Queensland and on exactly the same time zone as Sydney – is still recovering from the devastating 10-year civil conflict that ended in 1998.
The Pathways for Youth project CUFA runs there is very powerful because it provides opportunities for the “community outdoor youth” (so called because they are no longer at school) to develop skills that are vital in finding a job. The training is based around life skills, financial literacy, employment skills and micro-enterprise development.
One particularly memorable Sunday, the CUFA team and I visited a mountain-based community to introduce CUFA to the local residents, build relationships and to form a training group of 30 participants aged between 15 -25.
It was a half an hour, energy-sapping trek just to reach this remote community, perched at the top of a mountain. Luckily the route took us past breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls and forests of cocoa trees, and we were treated to cool fresh air and lovely smiles from the villagers we passed.
But my energy levels recovered completely then moment I reached our destination: the village was so beautiful and the villagers were waiting to welcome us with big smiles. The chief, who actively hosted and showed us around his village, was very helpful and passionate about having the program in his community.
We started our first day of youth training at 9 am sharp the following day. I felt very blessed and excited to see the commitment from some participants who had to walk over two hours across the mountains to get there on time. Some of them travelled with their parents, with whom I had the opportunity to talk and enjoy a delicious local lunch, learning about their children’s education needs and their culture.
From this experience and findings from other local villagers, families of participants and participants themselves, it is clear that the CUFA training will be a great tool for young people and enable them to make positive changes in their lives.
Kundi Lay, International Projects Supervisor, CUFA