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Peace ambassador crossed 43 rivers on the way to work

The Brigadier General prepares to walk across the river
Getting to work in June took Uniting International Mission’s Joy Balazo three days.  Her journey to the ‘No Go’ zone of the Meekamui group in southern Bougainville involved travelling in an open back ‘cargo style’ 4 wheeled drive traversing no less than 43 rivers.

“Even though I am a seasoned traveller in some pretty rough country, I said so many prayers as we crossed that last river.  The water was flowing so fast.  The Brigadier General chose to walk across and it was waist deep,” Joy said.

Arriving in this area of deep conflict Joy faced a week with no electricity and no running water, just the river nearby.  As she said ‘It’s all in a day’s work.”

In an area controlled by the King’s armed guards and with clear boundaries of demarcation, Joy’s mission was to bring peace to conflict centred on the church and its territory – a conflict which has divided the community.

Neither the King who was mourning the passing of his wife nor the Minister of the church attended Joy’s peace workshop.  This is unlike most Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP) workshops where opposing parties participate to find a way to end the conflict.  Here, the King’s security forces met to learn what about peace is all about.

After the first day the King requested a report from his soldiers on what they had learnt.  The messengers reported back that the King ‘is very pleased with what you have done.’  Thankfully Joy’s wireless microphone was carrying all her training right into the King’s house!

Joy had been declined a meeting with the King to pay her respects, so she was surprised to learn on the last day that he was to make an appearance.  All stood to attention while he delivered a very long speech.

The Brigadier General had told the King about YAP and its success.  He revealed that there had been general suspicion up till two weeks before Joy’s arrival sure YAP would be like every other NGO that had tried but failed to build trust hence no real change.

Joy also learned that there was concern that she and the other trainers could be kidnapped in return for four jailed kinsmen embroiled in the ongoing financial scam in Bougainville.  Again, Joy poured out more prayers.

And the result?  Joy and her team were safe.  The workshop was a success with many learning the paradigm shift of ‘win-win’ – a totally new concept for them.  The King’s closest confidants assured Joy that they would use what they had learnt to make great changes.

The police also heard of YAP and have requested their own workshop next year; there is a call for another workshop for those soldiers hardened to the possibility of peace and both the women of the church and the education department are wanting to step forward in this peace process.

“I am particularly pleased with this workshop” said Joy ‘as it’s a breakthrough for these people.  Many have tried before but not succeeded.  We managed to build their trust and confidence.  This is the second workshop we have run with soldiers in a military area.”

Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP) is a mission of the Uniting International Mission having been led by Joy Balzo since 2001.  Local co-ordinators in Bougainville arranged the workshop and will manage the follow up.  YAP has similar centres for co-ordination in Ambon, Indonesia; the PNG Highlands, Burma, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, North East India and the Philippines.  Please support this important peace making work.  Donations can be made by phoning 1800 000 331. For further information please visit www.uim.uca.org.au/yap

Photo : The Brigadier General prepares to walk across the river