In his well-worn pick-up truck, Father Isaiah Timba travels along the bumpy road from Tari Town to Idauwi in Tari-Pori District, Hela Province. Along the way, he stops to offer a lift to two ladies carrying bilums full of sweet potato vines. They are taking the vines to plant at their new garden site. Once safely onboard, Fr Isaiah continues the journey.
As he shifts gears to climb the undulating terrain, he points out a freshly planted food garden next to a newly built kunai-thatched traditional house, and he says: “These communities have just moved back after years of conflict.” By his estimates, Fr Isaiah believes there are about 32 major ongoing conflicts which have resulted in over 400 deaths and more than 100,000 people being displaced.
The beautiful valleys and rolling hills mask the scars of conflict where the area had been plagued by violent conflict from many years. Today, communities impacted by conflict are working towards building new lives.
He stops suddenly at another steep section of the highway, pulls the truck over and walks towards an overgrown plot that resembled nothing like the busy marketplace that previously stood there. A few steps on, he points to another site where the conflict started and displaced close to 20,000 people over the last few years. Further along the road, destroyed remnants of gas exploration camp provided a stark backdrop to scenes of returning adults and children carrying planks to rebuild their homes and gardens buoyed by the newfound peace.
|Fr Isaiah Timba.|
The United Nations (UN), through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has been partnering with Fr Isaiah and the Catholic Diocese of Mendi in local conflict mediation efforts in Hela Province since 2019. Idauwi is one of the locations where the Diocese has facilitated these efforts.
By adapting to local conflict resolution processes, the signing of a peace agreement in 2019 enabled a truce to be reached in Idauwi and created opportunities for the continuous process of conflict resolution. Fr Isaiah said, “One of the reasons the Pai peace agreement was a success was because of the sustained engagement with communities. We constantly followed up and if there were issues on the ground or any risk to the peace process, our leaders quickly followed up to address them.”
Idauwi communities plagued by conflict committed to peace. Photo: Clive Hawigen/ UNDP Papua New Guinea
There is now peace in the Pai area of Idauwi. Since the peace agreement signing in 2019, Mr Yegopia Saiapa of the Paitumbu Clan and Mr Talilia Tajanda of the Paitomo Clan have made peace and are concentrating on rebuilding their lives. Peaceful conditions are now evident with displaced households returning to rebuild their homes and food gardens with adults and children moving around freely without fear for their safety.
In a recent visit to Idauwi, a UN delegation led by UN Resident Coordinator a.i. Mr Dirk Wagener, interacted with two communities that were once in direct conflict. Accompanying the delegation were the British High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, H.E. Mr Keith Scott, representatives from the New Zealand High Commission, the US Embassy, USAID, and the Department of National Planning and Monitoring.
Mr Tajanda, on welcoming the delegation to his community said, “We want to come back and we want to start life again. When we see a lot of people coming here to our village, we are proud, we are happy.”
Gathered under a newly built kunai-thatched shelter, Mr Wagener said, “When we look around it is peaceful here, it feels peaceful. I hope that you are able to maintain peace, it is really important for us to come here and witness firsthand what is happening.”
A few kilometers down the road Mr Saiapa is also adjusting back to life in his community. Reflecting on how the conflict had previously disrupted their lives, he said where his community members were once constantly moving and always looking behind their shoulders, they were now at peace. Both Mr Tajanda and Mr Saiapa are grateful for Fr Isaiah’s work, and UNDP's partnership, towards mediating peace.
Speaking to both communities, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Mr Edward Vrkic reiterated, “Without stability there is no opportunity for development. The UN’s development work hinges on having peaceful conditions and this is precisely what UNDP is supporting communities to achieve. It’s foundational for us. It’s very important, economically and socially.”
|“When we look around it is peaceful here, it feels peaceful" - Dirk Wagener.|
With signs of life sprouting all over the rolling hills, Fr Isaiah reflected, “If there is peace throughout Hela Province, the province will prosper and that is what the majority of the people in the province want. Peace and prosperity.”