Lawyer Freda Talao (40) is senior program officer for AusAID working mainly in the Law and Justice sector. She is also chair person of ICRAF, a human rights NGO in Papua New Guinea. She was executive director of the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee. Over the years, she has worked extensively through government and the NGO sector on human rights, the environment, violence against women, and legislative reform issues such as family law reform and juvenile justice protocols. She was involved in peace building processes after Bougainville's civil war.
"Going back to Bougainville as a ‘red skin’ after the 12-year civil war against the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government, I represented the enemy. The steely eyes of the Bougainville ‘black skins’ cut through your soul; you do not know if you should continue or not. They do not trust you; they have no emotions left. Such was my experience when I started working on post-war Bougainville. Any minute a stray bullet could have landed on me. I always prayed quietly, ‘Lord, do not let that stray bullet hit me.’ Fear, anxiety, overwhelmed me. But then, as we celebrated the conclusion of a conflict resolution workshop that my organization had conducted in one of the strong rebel areas, a ‘No Go Zone,’ the people sang and praised God; their faith was the source of strength for them throughout the crisis. They had not lost their faith in God. I wept. I sobbed uncontrollably. I was a total disaster by the time I had to give my speech. All I did was weep and say sorry to them: sorry for all that had happened to them. Five, ten minutes went by; the cloud over my head lifted, the anxiety and fear left me. I could sense release, relief, and, most of all, acceptance. My tears were not alone. I looked around. Not a dry eye in sight. Even the peace monitors were wiping their eyes. It was the most moving moment, one I will never forget. Being a woman, a mother, my emotions had spoken the truth for me, said things that a thousand words could never say. As I celebrated afterwards in a dance with all the little girls hanging onto me, I knew peace, hope, reconciliation, were in sight. God gave me the privilege of being a bridge between the black skins of Bougainville and the red skins of PNG. Now, Bougainville is like home to me: no more fear, no more anxiety, absolutely beautiful!"
Individual and Community Rights Advocacy Forum (ICRAF) Business and Professional Women International (BPWI) Papua New Guinea Conservation Trust