Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency was founded at the height of the 10-year Bougainville conflict to provide humanitarian aid to women and children.
Twenty-five years on, Leitana Nehan now provides counselling for victims of violence, health awareness workshops, and advocacy for women and children’s rights. They are one of the largest and longest established NGOs in Bougainville. VSA has been working in partnership with Leitana sending volunteers to support their work since 2007.
Helen Hakena is Leitana Nehan’s founder and executive director.
Leitana Nehan’s story began with three women giving birth on the same day in 1990 (in an empty warehouse, hiding from the fighting). One of the women was myself, giving birth prematurely to Max my fourth child…I survived while the two other women died in childbirth leaving their two sons behind. I could not let other women suffer the way I did. Through my experience, I began to advocate for peace together with my friends.
Christine Ramsay is currently on assignment working alongside Helen as a Business and Office Management Mentor as she manages the project of creating a new space for Leitana.
I’ve gained a new respect for women since I got here. The work they do is so vital, and at the moment, there are just five staff. But through Helen Hakena’s leadership, they’ve built a huge grassroots network of community champions and advocates who cover everything from ending sexual violence to encouraging more young people to enrol to vote.
Sexual violence was used as a weapon during the conflict, so it became ingrained in society here. Bougainville still has one of the highest rates of gender based violence in the world. Women arrive at the office looking for a safe space, counselling and legal support – what can be hard in New Zealand, is just about impossible here.
In 2010, a fire destroyed Leitana’s headquarters, office and counselling space in Buka.
Even after the fire, Helen remained positive, and never stopped:
"We stood up, and we carried on…We are still strong, we have got our hands, our feet, we’ve got our hearts; we still are dedicated and committed to continuing the work."
From 2010, until early this year, Leitana operated out of “temporary” office space which had no water or toilet facilities. Through the efforts and support of many, a new facility is coming together. Leitana has already been able to raise money to complete the first stage of the building. There is space for counselling and for other community organisations to hold meetings, giving Leitana Nehan a sustainable source of income.
You could be part of Leitana’s story. We need your help to complete the rebuild of Leitana’s new building.
As Christine says, the impact of Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency is huge:
"They’re so well-connected throughout the country, their impact is huge. The new building will mean more space, more staff and more income, but really it will mean many more thousands of people in Bougainville will be able to live peaceful lives."
Helen says the impact of just having a shell of a building is huge:
"Being able to use the new build is proving beneficial for our work with Gender Based Violence. It is very good for Family Counselling; the wives, their husbands and families come together. The children come as well, and there is room where they all can sit, so we do a group counselling for all together…
"The Youth have used the office for some meetings, they have held their election meeting here also. It is spacious and airy, and they plus other groups will pay a small fee to use the space. Once the building is further completed and there are more services, water, electricity, toilets and a kitchen we will be able to charge a much higher rate."
Your help will allow this vital work to continue
A donation from you of $30 will contribute to the cost of installing water tanks so that clean water is available for the women and children using Leitana’s services
A donation from you of $65 could help complete one of four safe rooms so that women and children have a secure place to stay
A donation from you of $100 could be used to complete Leitana’s kitchen, providing a facility that people staying can use and a way for Leitana to generate income through hiring out facilities to community groups
A donation from you of $150 will help contribute to the cost of providing sanitation facilities for the building (toilets and a septic tank), contributing to the health of those in the community using Leitana’s services.