This post originally appeared on USAID’s 16 Days: Profiles.
Josephine Kauona is a champion of peace and prosperity in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. She survived the decade-long Bougainville Crisis that began in 1989. Ten percent of the population lost their lives during that time. Many people were forced to leave their homes, including Josephine. She gave birth alone in the jungle during a total blockade of the island. With no medical assistance available, many women died giving birth. Josephine adopted a daughter whose mother died in this way.
During the blockade, Josephine organized women groups to sustain themselves. She advocated for peace, testifying to the suffering endured by mothers and children. Eventually, she helped lead cease fire negotiations.
The war’s end forced survivors to confront a new reality where trauma disrupted the fabric of society. Abuse of all kinds – from domestic to elderly to substance – became a coping mechanism of a people unprepared to handle this devastation.
Josephine and other leaders pressed on to restore normalcy, building safe houses for victims of violence. When Josephine noticed that high illiteracy rates stunted progress, she founded the Tunainya Open Learning Center, coupling literacy and job skills training with counseling and mediation services to address domestic violence, land disputes and other conflicts.
Josephine engages community volunteers to amplify awareness. “When people participate in peace-building, they gain dignity and can integrate back into society better,” says Josephine. Demand for the center’s services reached across the land; today, some people walk for three hours from their home to get assistance. Her husband, Sam Kauna, was a commander during the conflict and now works alongside his wife to heal their wounded community and promote peace and prosperity in the region.
Josephine’s organization recently received one of the first USAID Women’s Peace Building Initiative award and her work has gained her international attention – including a consultancy with the UN and spot on a regional human rights committee.
“I have great hope for Bougainville,” she humbly gleamed.