SITA Gurung is a self-described mountain girl, and with good reason.
She is from the country that has the most famous – and highest – mountain in the world, Mount Everest, Nepal.
Yet for the past six months, she has found herself working on an island in the South Pacific.
Sita came to Papua New Guinea as an international United Nations volunteer to assist with awareness efforts on 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 the United Nations Development Programme’s Bougainville Referendum support project. It is a multi-donor funded project that provide support to the Bougainville Referendum Commission.
“ 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 was posted to Arawa, the pre-crisis capital of Bougainville, as an awareness and outreach adviser.
Working with colleagues from the referendum commission, Sita visited communities in Central Bougainville to train local representatives on how to conduct awareness on voter registration, checking of the roll, how to fill ballot papers 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 the role and is satisfied with her work.
“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 in PNG coming to end in Bougainville as the referendum process concludes, Sita’s hopes 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”.
The UNDP used the experience and expertise of 11 UN volunteers to support the conduct of the referendum in different roles such as logistics, awareness, external relations and regional electoral operations.
For Sita, there will be a story to tell back home about working in the hot sun on an island near the equator, and living among its friendly people – the ultimate PNG experience.
- Story and pictures supplied by United Nations.