West Papua peace building participants

West Papua peace building gathering (Photo: Helen Bayes)

By Dale Hess, Victoria Regional Meeting.

On 6 – 8 May 2011, 17 Friends, West Papuans and social change and peace educators (and one dog) gathered at the Silver Wattle Quaker Centre for a peace-building conference to discover ways that we might address the most protracted violent conflict in the Pacific, the situation in West Papua.

This meeting was an outgrowth of our Friend Jason McLeod’s experience, when as a 19-year-old travelling in PNG he became deathly ill with cerebral malaria. His life was saved because of the generosity of the Melanesian people.

After recovering, he crossed the border into West Papua where he learned first-hand of the suffering of the West Papuan people, which was in sharp contrast to the magnificent beauty of the country and the kindness of those he met.

In 2002, Jason returned to West Papua as a Donald Groom Fellow and gradually developed the idea of creating educational resources to build peace in West Papua.

This work, known as the Pacific Project, has been financially and spiritually supported over the years by Quakers in Australia through the AYM Peace & Social Justice Fund, and Victoria and Queensland Regional Meetings.

West Papua is located on the Western half of the island of New Guinea. West
Papua has been occupied by the Indonesian military since 1963.

Background to the conflict

Since the Indonesian government took control of West Papua in 1963 conflict has been characterised by stark power asymmetry between the Indonesian government and the indigenous people of West Papua.

The underlying root causes of conflict and violence in West Papua are structural, Multiple, complex and varied. There is a desperate need for transformation to peacefully resolve horizontal conflict (promote reconciliation and trauma healing between groups) and vertical conflict to achieve economic, environmental and social justice in West Papua.

The Pacific Project

The goal of the Pacific Project is by 2015 to facilitate the establishment of a self-sustaining network of West Papuan educators and trainers.

Embedded into the training process is a process of collecting stories of nonviolent action and resilience. These stories inform the training process and will be used in ways that both help develop networks inside West Papua and build cohesion throughout Indonesia and abroad.

West Papua Peace-Building Gathering at Silver Wattle

The six Papuans who attended the gathering represented two of the major coalitions within Papua and provided a balance of both men and women, and elders and students. The rhythm of Silver Wattle was very important to the success of the weekend, starting with worship after breakfast and ending with epilogue at night. The Papuans are deeply religious. Although they had not experienced silent worship before, they found it to be meaningful, especially the epilogues which included singing.

During our time together the various aspects of the Project were presented, and the successes and challenges were discussed. We played games and the experiential training methods were demonstrated. We planned for development of the project over the next twelve months with a careful eye on its sustainability and fund-raising.

Aside from standing up for justice in Papua an important dimension in which Quakers can participate is providing the spiritual and emotional support for Papuans in the Diaspora and those who are involved in the Project.

It was inspiring to be with the Papuans and to hear their stories, reinforced by seeing the documentary film, Strange Birds in Paradise. The Papuans left lasting memories of their commitment to the welfare of their community, and of our laughter and singing together.

We were strengthened in our commitment to accompany Papuans in their efforts to nonviolently transform their community. The Project team will now seek ways of continuing the planning process with those inside Papua.

Photo above shows West Papua Peace-Building Gathering at Silver Wattle, May 2011. Kneeling: Mambri, Kaka Rex Rumakiek. Front row: Anto Rumwaropen, Paula Makabory, Karrina, Herman Wainggai. Back row: Dale Hess, Jason, Ray Brindle, Sam, Anton, Brian Martin, David Johnson, Peter Arndt, Fergus. Photo: Helen Bayes, Canberra RM.
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