From 1988 to 1998 the most violent conflict in the Pacific region since the Second World War erupted on the island of Bougainville, part of Papua New Guinea. 

A carefully brokered peace agreement brought an end to hostilities in 2001. As Bougainville continues on its journey in implementing this peace agreement, Conciliation Resources has strengthened its relationship with one of the island’s foremost peace advocates, Sister Lorraine Garasu.

An island in conflict

Triggered by disputes in the late-1960s between local landowners and the international proprietors of the world’s largest copper and gold mine, local armed resistance in the 1980s sparked violent clashes with the Papua New Guinea security forces.

As this diverse island society fractured over the next decade, further conflicts erupted between different Bougainvillean groups leaving many thousands dead or displaced.

“I am wounded healer”

Sister Lorraine has been an inspiring leader in her community, helping to forge a more peaceful future for Bougainville. In 2005 she set up the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre to provide care and trauma counselling for women, children and former combatants affected by the violence.

It has been a challenge trying to help people who suffer the same thing as me. I am the wounded healer – I suffer the same thing as the people I help to recover.

Sister Lorraine Garasu

Her centre has developed over time into a hub that connects local organisations and delivers a range of training and support services for community groups – in gender-based violence, trauma-healing and peacebuilding.

Whether it is a survivor or victim of sexual violence or former combatants, the most rewarding is to witness them recover and live a normal life.

Community recognition: the biggest reward

Sister Lorraine’s tireless work has been recognised at home and abroad. In 2000 she was presented with the Papua New Guinea Government’s Silver Jubilee Award in acknowledgement of her service to women in Bougainville; she was named among the US State Department’s International Women of Courage in 2009; and again in 2009 collected the Order of Australia medal.

What has helped me, to bring back life and courage in me, has been the recognition, even if I don’t get millions, people are grateful and thankful, and that’s what counts. I tell them, the biggest thanks you can give me is to make a difference in your life.

Working with Conciliation Resources

Conciliation Resources has been working in the South Pacific region, with a focus on Fiji, for over 20 years.  Its involvement in peacebuilding work in Bougainville began in 2002 when a partnership was formed with Sister Lorraine – who was then working with the Bougainville Interchurch Forum to develop a literacy toolkit to raise awareness of the peace process. 

In 2002, she was a contributing editor to issue 12 of Conciliation Resources’ Accord series – Weaving consensus: The Papua New Guinea-Bougainville peace process which analysed the Papua New Guinea-Bougainville Peace Agreement and the variety of initiatives that helped put an end to the fighting and establish the conditions for peace.

Conciliation Resources is currently in discussions with civil society and community leaders in Bougainville and exploring initiating a project in 2016 to support peacebuilding initiatives there.