As CUFA’s Youth Pathways for the Future program begins to gain traction in Bougainville, International Program Manager Kundi Lay gets a revered elder’s perspective.
To Bougainvilleans, land is like the skin on the back of your hand. You inherit it, and it is your duty to pass it on to your children in as good a condition as, or better than, that in which you received it. You would not expect us to sell our skin, would you? – Raphael Bele in The Bougainville Land Crisis.
Father of nine Mr Tomas Simba is well known as a champion of youth in his village of Panam, where he is community chief. The village, in Bana district South of Bougainville, is situated at the site of the infamous Panguna mine, at the heart of Bougainville’s bloody civil war, which finally ended in 1998.
My three-hour drive over bumpy and half-paved roads to meet this local legend was worth it. Tomas Simba always hoped his children and the other young people in his village would grow up armed with good life skills, ready to take on the world as smart farmers or business professionals. Those hopes were dashed as the conflict around the mine area became concentrated around his village.
The fighting and the destruction of the land had a profound and lasting effect on both adults and young people alike, causing whole communities to become passive. Many turned to alcohol to cope with their sorrow.
Tomas bowed his head in sadness as he spoke about his stress and concern over the young people being denied any hope for a bright future.
Instead of keeping his concerns to himself, Tomas decided to help breathe new life into his village by setting up an eco-lodge for local tourists to come and experience the mine sites in what is an area of outstanding natural beauty. The lodge is set in beautiful gardens, with a 100 metre waterfall only a kilometre away.
The lodge is now an important means by which the young people become actively engaged with the people from the other villages and towns. Yet it still only scratches the surface in terms of opening up communication. Having CUFA’s Youth Pathways project there to teach young people life skills, proper financial management, advanced business planning and to develop better job opportunities has relieved his concerns.
Now Tomas had a big smile on his face when he told me that most of the youth in his village had started to change their attitudes: they had become more punctual, spent less money on alcohol at the weekend and focused more on their studies. He also added that women who attended the training started to become more confident in expressing their opinions and speaking in public – both exciting changes for him, as women in Bougainville are traditionally not confident.
Tomas enthusiastically believes that his passion and commitment combined with CUFA’s life-changing tools and knowledge will bring lasting change – not only for the young people in his village but for other Bougainville youth. Finally they have a chance to direct their own life journey, and for their future to be as bright as other well-educated kids.
Read more about CUFA’s Youth Pathways for the Future program here.