Barbara Masike – Papua New Guinea Program Director. Barbara has been with The Nature Conservancy for 11 years working with governments, communities and partners to advance conservation in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
“I was honoured to be invited to speak at the Solomons mining forum, but I was also a bit nervous, because thinking about my experience with mining in PNG brings back difficult memories.
Mining came to my town when I was growing up, and it promised a lot of good things. But looking back, I wish we had a forum in PNG to understand the potential negative impacts mining could bring.
I am from Bougainville, PNG. The Panguna mine promised dream jobs with good conditions for us and for our children—lots of money and good homes and expensive cars to drive in. Ultimately, that mine caused a civil war with 20,000 deaths.
The conflict in Bougainville had grown and my hometown was no longer safe. In May 1990, my older sister died in childbirth because she could not receive adequate medical care as a result of the fighting. My sister is one of the 20,000 people who died during the conflict through direct confrontation with PNG authorities or the Bougainville Revolutionary Army rebels, or due to the lack of proper health services as a result of the conflict brought on by mining.
During the landowners conflict, I was covering the story first at the University of PNG in Port Moresby and then when working for the Post Courier, one of the daily papers in the country, I was harassed and feared for my life. When a story I covered about the conflict was edited incorrectly, my fellow Bougainvilleans threatened to sue me for defamation.
This is my story. I don’t think it deserves to be told, because there are thousands that remain untold—the stories and experiences of the women of Bougainville, many who suffered terribly, some who lost their whole family. My story and those of all Bougainvilleans will forever be a scar in our hearts and minds. It’s not only in our memories, we live with it today, as we continue to see the big crater that now lies in the mountains of Panguna. It will forever be a reminder to us, of the dreams that we had once upon a time, the fairy tale story of that paradise now in ruins and rubble.
Participating in the Solomons mining forum and sharing my story was a gift I could give to the women and people of Solomon Islands. It is critical that women share their stories and help one another. The Solomon Islands must learn from Bougainville with their mining industry or fall victim to the short-term benefits of mining and a lifetime of sad and broken hearts.”