Finding the ‘lost generation’ of Bougainville
Eddie Kenai is a husband, a father and a youth leader in his hometown of Buka in Bougainville. In 2011, as a volunteer with the UN, he organised the first Bougainville Walk for Peace to mark the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and acted as Programme Coordinator for a Youth Forum facilitated by the UN, but entirely owned and run by the youths themselves.
“We wanted to have the forum at that very time (the 10th anniversary), so it would also become an educational week for the youth, because a lot of young people in Bougainville don’t have an idea of what the peace agreement even is,” noted Eddie. “There are a lot of issues in Bougainville affecting the youth and we realised that we do not have a voice in the parliament to address these. So we talked about the peace agreement and about issues such as HIV/AIDS and stigma and discrimination.”
Eddie’s rise to a leader of his community, and a champion for change, was not an easy one. As a member of Bougainville’s ‘lost generation’ - those young people who failed to receive basic education and employment opportunities during the crisis years – he overcame many obstacles to become the man he is. “The crisis started in 1988 and for four years I received no education. Then I went back in 1991 with the help of the Red Cross, who sent me to school in Rabaul. I should have been in Grade 11 or 12, those of my age group were already ahead of me, but I started Grade 8 again. I found it difficult when I went back to class because I had been away, in the jungle, and in the war, but I caught up and finished Grade 8, and then Grade 9 and finally Grade 12. That is how I built myself and then I became a motivational speaker, encouraging the young people of Bougainville,” said Eddie.
The UN identified youth development as a pressing priority in the region and since 2008 the UN has supported youth mobilization under the concept of ‘responsibility for peace’. Findings from a 2009 regional survey conducted by UNDP on youth and substance abuse indicated that amidst the challenges of post-conflict trauma, arms proliferation, law and order, alcoholism and drug abuse, youth are the key perpetrators, with negative effects on the entire region. At the same time, the young generation is the one that can give ARB a major impulse for post-conflict recovery.
“We want youths to be very much involved in a lot of decision making, in politics, and in the Bougainville political journey. I think a lot of the time the fathers plan for the children, but then the children don’t know what the fathers are planning. So when it comes to implementation, the young people are left out. So with the situation in Bougainville, we want young people to get involved in the peace building efforts,” suggested Eddie.
The youths that have benefitted from this support started to organize themselves around jointly identified social projects, including an advocacy initiative against the use of arms and drugs, GBV and human rights abuses as well as community service activities. Staff from the UN office in Buka mentor the groups and provide capacity trainings and network building.
“These future leaders represent the most powerful agents for change in Bougainville. As we support the ABG to increase the social and economic opportunities for these young people, the UN is supporting the development of the entire region and ensuring it has a stable and prosperous future,” said PNG Resident Coordinator, David McLachlan-Karr, at the time of the Youth Forum.
The Buka Town Council, a UN partner in the programme, now subcontracts youth that are organized in a cooperative for projects such as the town beautification - known as the ‘Go Green Initiative’ - and sanitation. The UN supports the ABG in expanding this Youth Programme by hiring youths for other services, such as office cleaning and security. The programme also seeks engagement with ABG and parliament on issues of quality education, youth employment and sexual and reproductive health, as well as HIV and AIDS. These youths have become a source of motivation for their peers and act as agents of change for ARB’s post-conflict recovery.
“With the Peace Walk, the youth were involved in the planning, and the actual coordination of it, and so they were very enthusiastic, excited, and passionate about making it happen. What the UN has done is help in building capacity. In fact, a lot of young people come from different backgrounds, but since getting involved with the UN, they have built their capacity to plan, to do, to coordinate - these are small things, but it has contributed a lot to helping everyone in Bougainville,” explains Eddie.