Three churches, armed with the Bible, help make peace in the remote Okapa district of Eastern Highlands province. ZACHERY PER reports
CHILDREN in the remote Gimi area of Okapa district, Eastern Highlands province, grow up not knowing what it is like to go to school or to live in peace with their neighbours.
All they have been taught by their menfolk at an early age is how to handle firearms.
For the past 31 years, boys have been reared to become tribal warriors.
All this is about to end if a peace process, brokered recently by three churches, is successful.
And children may see the inside of a classroom at long last.
Leaders from the nine council wards of Gimi local-level government agreed, with conditions, that schools and health centres should be established in the area immediately.
They no longer want to see their children growing up to take up arms and fight. They would rather they went to school to get an education.
Women’s spokesperson Lorna Robert says the Gimi mothers despair at raising sons, knowing that they are destined to be warriors and possibly die at a young age.
“They will only grow up to take up arms and bring disharmony to us,” she said.
Agivu tribe “war lord” Tom Osa sums it up thus: of his three sons, the first two, Bida and Thomas, have been warriors – protectors of his tribe – since taking up arms 26 years ago in an ongoing fight.
The youngest son, Veneva Tom, 6, has also been armed with a home-made gun.
“My sons were born in the tribal fight culture and have grown up to take up arms, like any others in their age group in the Gimi area,” old man Osa said.
“I have been a gunman for my tribe all my life and I have trained my sons to be gunmen just like me.”
Last month’s peace ceremony, many months in the making, was organised by the Salvation Army and backed by New Tribes Mission and the Lutheran church.
Warring clans made peace, while at the same time calling on the Government to allocate their share of Gimiís development funding to these three churches to build their health centres and schools.
“We want the government and Okapa district to allocate our share of funding from the budget to these three churches to build schools and health centres for us,” Reuben Lamaiyu of the Asarupi tribe said.
Leaders who pledged to lay down their arms were Mohua Anelo (Nabi village), Samio Fova (Amusa village tribe), Saore Aseva, a self-styled gunman in the fight from Amusa village, Ime Tasomo, Maremo Sekereveto of Tarotu village and Maiva Oyari of the Agibu tribe.
Said Mr Osa: “Now that we have given up the armed conflict, I do not expect my youngest son (Veneva) to follow in our, and his brothers’, footsteps. I want him to go to school and get an education.”
Finding that school though would be a problem. There was a community school in Gimi from 1971 to 1976 but none since then, according to former ward councillor Paul Anobala.
“All our children have no chance of going to school to get basic education, they have been growing up to be tribal war warriors since we entered into a prolonged tribal fight for 26 years,” Cr Anobala said.
Hopefully, the three churches will set up an education system which, among many other good deeds, will teach the forgotten generation how to spell “PEACE”.