18.04.2018 - "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 was seven months pregnant when I gave birth. 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.” Helen Hakena, co-founder of Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency.
Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency (LNWDA) was formed in 1992 in an attempt to prevent and overcome violence caused by the Bougainville Crisis. It has grown to be an influential NGO, with 91 volunteers, including 38 counsellors, working in the districts to implement the Agency’s programmes. The 38 counsellors are mobile and provide confidential counselling to victims and survivors of all forms of violence against women.
VSA has worked with LNWDA since 2007. In 2010, a fire destroyed the LNWDA headquarters, offices and counselling space in Buka. Since then the Agency has occupied a “temporary” office space which has allowed their work to continue but has no water nor toilet facilities.
VSA Volunteer Christine Ramsay is working alongside Helen and her team as a Business and Office Management Mentor as they build a new purpose-built space. This will provide not just much-needed facilities for the services they offer, but income-generating conference space for rent. Christine spoke to several members of the LNWDA team, to hear their inspiring stories.
When I was in high school, our class matron told us one day that we had to attend an awareness-raising session on social issues and Human Rights by a team of Human Rights defenders. The whole school gathered at the assembly hall waiting for the Human Rights group that day. To my surprise, there they were.... my mum and dad, plus several other young people. As they were addressing the school and talking about homebrew alcohol, rape, child abuse, etc, I was slowly moving from the centre where I was sitting, to a corner where no one would know that they were my parents. I felt ashamed and hated what they were doing. After the session that day, I didn’t want to be seen with them in school.
After I completed Grade 10 at Hutjena Secondary School in 1996, I had a lot of opportunities to continue my tertiary studies but I was too scared to leave home as there was still fighting between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, Papua New Guinea Defence Force and Resistance forces on the island.
Having nothing better to do at home, I joined the Losei Village Catholic Youth Group. At one of the meetings, the Parish Chair told us about an invitation to attend an outreach programme at Hahela Parish. Upon arrival at Hahela, I was again surprised that my parents were there running the programme. This time I thought to myself, I better concentrate and know what these two are up to. When they did the campaign in high school, I wasn’t listening because I was too busy hiding. After the programme, I realized that I was wrong about being ashamed and hating the work they both were doing. I started following them around Buka Island.
At first, I used to be very shy in speaking publicly. Sometimes I would hide and pretend to be sick. After years of being trained and coached, I gained the confidence and became the organisation’s trainer.
I am now the Programme Director of Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency. I joined the organization in 1998 as a young feminist woman leader. I continued to work as the trainer on Gender and Human Rights and as a counsellor to assist victims/survivors of all forms of violence against women and girls.
I am a radio announcer with Radio Bougainville, and the chairperson of the Genext Club, a young women’s network in Bougainville. When I completed my secondary high school I had no opportunity to continue my education. I stayed at home for almost a year. Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency hosted a training workshop for young women which empowered me. My interest grew and when the opportunity arose, I applied to be a volunteer with the organisation.
Leitana Nehan sent me to FemLink Pacific in Suva to be trained as a media correspondent. Through this international exposure and the skills I learnt, I participated in formulating policies for Women’s Peace and Security for the Pacific.
I gained so much confidence in working with young women and collating their personal stories. So when the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) advertised the position, I applied and was accepted. I am now earning a good salary which supports my young family. I am now married and have two children and a supportive husband.
I have worked as a male advocate for Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency since 2010. I was working in the private sector prior to 2010 after completing high school. Leitana Nehan was conducting awareness-raising in the area about Human Rights, Gender Based Violence, and Women and Girls’ rights.
I have changed my attitudes towards women and girls in terms of seeing them as equal partners in life. Having to work under the supervision of a woman was challenging at first but training that I have had with the organisation has helped me in so many ways.
Conducting training on masculinity, Human Rights and Violence against Women to other men in the community brings comfort and satisfaction when men are keen to learn more about social issues and their effects and how to try to end these issues.
I am now married and share the ideas and knowledge with my wife, my equal.
I am a single mother with one daughter. My boyfriend, the father of my daughter, lied to me and left me when I was pregnant. His parents did not accept me as their son’s girlfriend. I was verbally and mentally abused by his parents. This caused me a lot of pain and suffering. My parents also disowned me. I carried the burden of looking after my daughter alone. I was always worried until today.
I was brought in for counselling by my friends who knew about the counselling services offered by Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency. I came in for several counselling sessions and I gained the confidence to take my ex-partner to court for child maintenance. He is now paying monthly maintenance for my daughter.
My daughter is now in school and the monthly maintenance fees help to pay for her school fees and other needs. I am very confident and have moved on with my life.