The Autonomous Region of Bougainville (Bougainville) is Papua New Guinea’s easternmost region, located between 5 and 7 degrees south of the equator to the north of Solomon Islands and southeast of New Britain. In the 2011 census, Bougainville had a reported total population of 234,280 people, which comprised 3.3% of PNG’s total population.

In 2019, the population was estimated at 300,00 people, which comprised 3.3% of Papua New Guinea's total population.  A large portion of the population left Bougainville during the crisis and immediately post-crisis; anecdotal evidence suggests some elements of the diaspora are returning. The region is predominantly Christian, made up mostly of Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist and United Church congregations.  

VSA began working in Bougainville in 1998 with a programme that focused on reconstruction efforts and responding to immediate post-conflict needs. Today, our volunteers work alongside the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), the private sector, and international and national non-government organisations. Together, they support public services, enable community development and secure livelihoods for rural people. 

VSA established a field office in Arawa in June 1998, 6-months after the New Zealand government brokered the ceasefire. While many NGO’s set up in Buka, VSA purposefully based itself in Arawa, near the heart of the conflict, as part of the New Zealand Government’s commitment to delivering a “peace dividend”. Volunteers have since been deployed in Buka, Buin, Nissan, Selau-Suir, Tinputz and Wakunai districts, and in 2013 a sub-field office was opened in Buka. 

Bougainville Crisis & Referendum

The Bougainville conflict or crisis as it is generally referred to, began in late 1988 and ended in 1997 with the beginning of the formal peace process.  A comprehensive count of deaths is absent although most organisations quote a figure in between 10,000 – 20,000 and in 2005 the UN News Centre put the death toll at 15,000. The crisis led to 60,000 of the Bougainville population living in refugee camps, extensive destruction of private and public properties, termination of provincial and central government services to most areas, and widespread trauma and injuries.

What we’re doing in Bougainville

Deep ongoing partnerships with organisations such as Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency and the Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation reinforce the positive and lasting impact of long-term engagement by VSA and our volunteers. Both organisations have been able to extend the provision of services within and beyond their communities, in part due to the contribution of VSA volunteers, in particular Christine Ramsay (now VSA’s Bougainville Programme Manager), Anne and Peter Bellingham, and Elizabeth Hicks. 

VSA has been active in the health sector, working strategically to support the Department of Health to implement a programme of clinical capability development, educational opportunities, and improved administrative support and planning. 

UniVol assignments in Bougainville have had positive outcomes through “youth to youth” development and the opportunities to support non-government organisations such as Plan International, the SDA (Seventh Day Adventist) Church, and the Catholic Diocese of Bougainville.