News: Letter from the field (4 months)

Combining traditional and modern building techniques
Kevin Wilson, from Toongabbie NSW, is working as a Program Coordinator at Tunaniya Open Learning Centre, Bougainville.

Death always seems very close here, but as Fred Smith says “Life seems much grander too”. Many occasions lately have the stamp of history being made before our eyes. The first Bougainville Remembrance Day commemoration on May 17 was a moving experience. It gave me an insight into what the first ANZAC Day ceremonies were like: All the veterans are still quite young men, and tributes to the fallen were laid not just by widows and children, but parents and grandparents as well. It hits home just how devastating a war is to all aspects of life. I had the humbling honour of helping to prepare the Day’s program and was asked to provide a suitable reflective phrase or ode. I came up with:

That we may have a better life
They gave us their own.
We owe it to Them!

And on the day everyone took it to heart and made it their own! I have to pinch myself sometimes: Did I just coin the “Lest We Forget” of Bougainville?

The board of Tunaniya Open Learning Centre

How have I fared personally? It’s becoming a cliché to say this, but the Palms Orientation was the best preparation for this experience. Even so, I probably made myself too aware of the “Culture Shock Bell Curve”. My own emotional graph looks rather more like the NASDAQ.

Being the only westerner in my area (and always willing to a fault) meant cultural immersion was swift and deep. The continual building program in Tunaniya was a great opportunity to learn traditional construction and other bushcrafts while integrating with the community. My grandfather would have loved this! Ironically I also worked in familiar areas such as plumbing and concreting which I have never done in Sydney.

Sam said he had not known any other Australians to live at such a “Bougainvillian” level. By no means am I anything special but I cannot think of a more encouraging compliment to any volunteer. Admittedly though sometimes it would still be nicer to eat more than boiled kaukau and have power at least daily! Sorry, I lie- my diet has included occasional pig, shark, turtle and cuscus.

There are many ongoing challenges but I have no regrets that I came. On Remembrance Day I remarked to the Police Sergeant “I think we’re on the verge of real improvement here.” “I agree!” was his reply and the many exciting developments in Bougainville since that landmark day are proving this correct. There is such a positive vibe in the air! If there is any time to be in Bougainville it is now!

My warmest regards to all at Palms and especially the volunteers from the July ’08 Orientation. I often think back to our intense “bonding session” and reflect on how far we have come already. In many diverse places and roles we still have a common journey, so with you I share this observation:

In Bougainville a mandarin will be perfectly ripe and sweet even though the skin is still green, yet a banana may not ripen until it is almost black, then it quickly decays. The result of our efforts may arrive sooner, or later, than we expect. We might not even be around when it does, but know it will happen and it will be sweet.


Read Kevin’s full commUNITY newsletter

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The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. - Rumi