In December 2018, Kayt Bronnimann  took over VSA's Instagram and Facebook pages to post her reflection on her assignment. If you missed it, here are her posts in one handy space.

Hi everyone and welcome to the next Instagram takeover with me, Kayt. I volunteered with VSA in 2017 in the Autonomous Region if Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. My assignment was a creative content assistant at the Bureau for Public Affairs, Media and Communication. 
I had just finished my Honours degree in Development Studies and then found myself on a small island in the Pacific about to embark on an incredible ten-month adventure. I knew little about Bougainville before I went but now the place and its people are close to my heart. Follow along this week to find out more about my year and the amazing opportunity of volunteering with VSA!

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One of the best parts of my role at the Bureau of Public Affairs, Media and Communication was the chance to travel around Bougainville with the mobile radio station Radio Ples Lain to spread awareness around the independence referendum that will take place on June 15th, 2019. It was a chance to reach remote communities who have little access to either radio or other news media and hear their views and opinions. This often involved long drives over mountains, multiple river crossings and seeking out the elusive Digicel network to upload stories to the Autonomous Bougainville Government website. No matter where we went we were welcomed by the communities and it was a chance to see more of the region and hear the stories of the people.

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When you first arrive on assignment VSA provides you with language training. For Bougainville the Tok Pisin teacher is Maria and her lessons were so valuable in helping me feel more a part of the local life. We also had the opportunity to travel with Maria to her home of Nissan Island and put our language skills to the test! There are plenty of opportunities like this on assignment to travel and explore and practice your fledgling language skills with the locals.

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Volunteering with VSA as a Univol was a great way to transition from my degree in Development Studies to a real-world situation. VSA covers all costs and provides a ton of support before, during and even after your assignment. The connections I made, the relationships I formed and the language skills I developed also helped me immensely when I returned to Bougainville this year to do my Masters research. So if you’re thinking about volunteering with VSA then do it. Take the plunge!

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What made my time in Bougainville truly memorable was the relationships I formed with my wanwoks (colleagues) at the Bureau. Some days the power would go out and we would sit in the shade of the buai market and share stories, tell jokes and get to know one another. These moments between the work were, in fact, some of the most valuable times as a volunteer for me. Volunteering should be grounded in relationships and the length of VSA assignments ensure you have the time to get to know your partner organisation and share, laugh and learn with them.

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When you volunteer with VSA you live in communities alongside the locals and are part of everyday life. You also have plenty of opportunities to travel and discover more of the place through village homestays and other trips. I’m so grateful to all the people of Bougainville who shared parts of their amazing island with me. Photos from L-R 1) Boys fishing on Buka beach 2) Nothing beats a kulau on a hot day 3) Our guides from Ruruvu village 4) Ruruvu village 5) Lake Billy Mitchell, after a two-day trek through thick jungle! 

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So what does a typical day look like for a volunteer? For me my day began in the cool of the early morning before the true heat settled in, listening to sounds of the village waking up: kids laughing, women starting their cook fires, PMV’s driving along the road. On my lunch break, I would often walk to town alongside the runway as the daily Air Niugini plane came in to land. Town meant a trip to the market which always had new surprises. Life in Bougainville moved at a slower pace and I ended up doing things that you don’t even think about back in NZ such as scraping a coconut to make coconut milk. Night falls early in that part of the world and nights were a time to relax and watch some TV (always bring a packed hard drive!) A day in the life of a volunteer is sometimes challenging, sometimes boring, sometimes exciting but it always brought with it a new experience to discover.

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Since returning to NZ I have been studying towards my Masters in Development Studies. I was lucky enough to return to Bougainville this year and interview some incredible women leaders. Women peacebuilders who survived the conflict, who fought for recognition and representation and advocate for women’s rights. My time as a volunteer gave me the connections, awareness of the complex context of the region and the language skills to undertake my research. I never would have been able to hear the stories of these women had I not been a VSA volunteer. Thanks for following along with me this week on my VSA Instagram takeover as I shared just a few fragments from my time in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. Photos L-R: 1. Helen Hakena, co-founder of Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency 2. The Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation 3. Students performing at a Peace and Reconciliation ceremony.

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