Humanitarian Leadership Blog

Loloho Beach far away in time – Bougainville Independence a complex journey.

In the mid 80’s, as young person starting out in my career, I had a life and career changing experience with an opportunity to live and work on Bougainville Island. With a diverse and rewarding career, it still remains in my top five learning opportunities. It reinforced and embedded the importance of people, culture, diversity and inclusion at work and how you live your life, ensuring empowerment and equality. I continue to use these lessons in my career and life. I did develop wonderful relationships during this period where this experience made me proactively lead and engage with the natural tensions that come with living and working in a diverse community.

We lived and worked hard – I loved living in an exciting cross-cultural camp where we shared our cultures, customs and lifestyles on Loloho Beach with a spectacular view and beach. This experience led me to extensively travel, work and volunteer in culturally diverse world regions where I continually learn and grow both professionally and personally.

We had wonderful trips exploring Bougainville and Buka Islands living with our work mates and their families in villages. I often recall my meeting with a daughter of a friend in a remote village on Buka Island – she was very cautious of me because my skin was so pale and different. With her natural curiosity that changed very quickly and she wanted to know everything about me, my family and my village.

Since leaving Bougainville and with the Island’s years of conflict and hardship, I often think about that young girl and what happened to her. Life significantly changed for her and those communities – I was always impressed on how resilient this community was but how would they deal with long-term conflict and major economic loss.

I recently completed studying for the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance at Fordham University, New York (IDHA50) which was also another one of those life-changing experiences. I again reflect and ponder on what happened to that young girl, her family and that community.

Bougainville Island’s secessionist conflict ended with a peace agreement that included the proposal to hold an independent referendum by 2020 with conditions to establish the rule of law, have a government structure and dispose of weapons. These conditions are obtainable but dedicated moral leadership will be required to deliver a positive environment (safe and secure) for the referendum to be successful. Regional security and stability while building capacity in supporting economic growth and community wellbeing remains the focus for regional leaders. However, purposeful leadership combined with structured contingency planning will be required to deliver and map out the consequences framework and action plans needed to support and deliver positive outcomes for the communities of Bougainville that include enhancing local capacity, community leadership and value.

I do hope that young girl has grown up to be a positive, healthy young lady and that the international community can continue to be there to ensure that she and her community have the opportunities to grow and prosper with gender equality and empowerment.

James Ritchie
2 October 2017

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© October 2017

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