05 December 2019, Port Moresby - International Volunteer Day
Sita Gurung is a self-described mountain girl, and with good reason. She is from the country that has the most famous mountain in the world, Mount Everest, Nepal. Yet for the last 6 months she has found herself working on an island in the South Pacific.
Sita came to Papua New Guinea as an International UN Volunteer to assist with awareness efforts in the 2019 Bougainville Referendum on self-determination. With her experience in supporting electoral processes back in her home country she was eager to share her expertise.
The referendum is held in Bougainville as part of the implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, signed in 2001, that ended a decade long conflict on the island province.
Sita’s engagement came through UNDP’s Bougainville Referendum Support Project, a multi- donor funded project that provide support to the Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC), which saw her posted to Arawa, the pre-crisis capital of Bougainville, as an Awareness & Outreach Adviser.
Working with a BRC counterpart, Sita visited communities across the Central of Bougainville region to train local representatives to conduct awareness around the BRC, voter registration, checking the voter’s roll (register), how to complete the ballot paper and other referendum issues.
“Before I came to Papua New Guinea, I was told it was a risky place and to be careful. It has in fact been the complete opposite. It has been peaceful and safe and I have met many very welcoming and friendly people.”
Sita says she feels lucky to have taken on this role and she is satisfied with her work so far.
“I used to see friends and colleagues go off and volunteer in other countries and it came to a point where I thought, I have experience that can help, and would like to contribute my skills.”
With her time soon coming to end in Bougainville as the referendum process concludes, Sita’s hopes are that “the same spirit of peace and enthusiasm I have seen in the lead up and conduct of the referendum continues into the next phase of the Peace Agreement Implementation process”.
UNDP has used the experience and expertise of 11 UN Volunteers to support the conduct of the Bougainville Referendum in different roles such as logistics, awareness, external relations and regional electoral operations.