Building bridges

Normal, Weekender

Steven Windou

ABOUT 10 years ago, my colleague, Dr Regis Stella of Bougainville, launched his first novel Gutsini Posa or Rough Seas at the University of South Pacific in Fiji. I was also there to witness the launching. The novel is centred around the Bougainville crisis and the experiences of that conflict. Many educated Bougainvilleans live outside of Bougainville.
I kept thinking about the Bougainvillean characters in Gutsini Posa. If it wasn’t for the Bougainville conflict, the characters would continue to move from place to place outside of Bougainville. Jamila, the female character and Penagi, the male protagonist, return to Bougainville to help out their people. Jamila was the first to leave Port Moresby for Bougainville without telling Penagi, her boyfriend. Penagi followed later. Their return home was significant in that as educated members of their communities, they have to return to their people to find a way out of the crisis. Now that the crisis is over, the rehabilitation, rebuilding and reconstruction phase has set in.
I had an opportunity to travel to the Buka University Centre of the University of Papua New Guinea early this year. On arrival in Buka, I was met by the director of the UPNG Buka Open College Centre, Albert Nukuitu. I have known Albert as a friend and colleague for a long time. I thought Albert would never return to Buin, his home district, or to Buka for that matter. Somehow, the lure and glamour of Port Moresby had us all locked into its charms. Albert Nukuitu, Regis Stella, and my other Bougainvillean friends of UPNG student days lived a phase of their lives in self-imposed internal exiles because of the crisis that ruined their homes.
Peaceful years and strong reform years came by to see the emergence of the Autonomous Bougainville Government. Life picked up again with restoration of services in Bougainville, more so especially in Buka. It was then that Albert Nukuitu returned to Buka to take up his job as the director of the Buka Open College Centre. That was a surprise to all of us who know Albert, who worked at the UPNG Human Resource Management Division and later as the Executive Officer in the School of Business Studies. He had his reasons. It was none of our business to know.
As we drove from the airport to the UPNG Open College centre, Albert showed me a spot where a scene from the film Tukana was shot. The film Tukana: Husait I Asua? and Stella’s novel Gutsini Posa gave  us two important windows of viewing Bougainvillean society. The novel gave me a sense of what it means growing up in Bougainville and having to deal with the crisis that completely devastated a people. Albert Toro’s Tukana, a film about young Bougainvilleans and the changing lifestyles in Bougainville before the crisis, provided the image I have of Bougainville. The film raises the troubling question: Husait I Asua? A question that continues to haunt us right through our lives, even today.
It is said before you visit a place, you must read a book about the place. Little I know from reading Stella’s Gutsini Posa and seeing Albert Toro’s film Tukana prepared me as I visited Buka. So much had happened in Bougainville over the years that nothing I saw would reveal the history of the place.
Albert’s local knowledge and sensitivities helped me find Buka as a wonderful place. It was the stories that Albert told me during my time there that I began to appreciate and value the challenges and difficulties people have endured to be what they are today. I began to understand Albert’s reason for going home. The job of director of UPNG Buka centre was a good choice for Albert to return home to help his people. He has transformed the centre and has plans to expand the UPNG operation in Bougainville. As we sat in his office, he had two calls from Buin. He explained to me that he was helping his Buin community to rebuild and restore his beloved Buin Secondary School. He showed me a picture of the Buin Secondary School library to get my reaction. It did not look like a library at all, was my reaction. A major rehabilitation is needed. Albert’s community is working together to restore the pride of Buin High School.
Albert is the board chairman for the Buin Secondary School. Under his chairmanship, they are seeking funding to help rebuild and rehabilitate the Buin Secondary School. The Buin High School was established in 1968 with its first grade 7 intake in the same year. It had its first grade 10 graduates in 1971. Over the past years Buin High School developed in many ways, especially in terms of its physical facilities and the area it now covers. Its alumni hold important offices in the private and public sectors.
The buildings were built with funding from the then Australian Colonial Administration during the pre-Independence period. Since the buildings were put up, they have never been maintained for the last four decades. The condition of the facilities deteriorated further over the last two decades of the civil uprising due to lack of maintenance. In the last two years, there has been very little funding on very minimal maintenance work from the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
In 2006, Buin High School was upgraded to a secondary level school. It enrolled its first grade 11 students in 2006. Its pioneer grade 12 graduation took place in October 2007. At the moment, it is one of the only three top-up secondary schools on Bougainville and despite its unpreparedness due to lack of facilities to be upgraded to a secondary school, it is the only school that covers South and Central Bougainville which has a population of 140,000 plus people. Buin Secondary School needs a lot of funding to rehabilitate, rebuild and restore their pride and purpose.
Albert Nukuitu and many others are showing us the importance of building bridges in our communities.