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    Papua New Guinea: Finding closure after two decades of searching for a missing father

    Considered studying law

    Before going to university, she considered becoming a lawyer and ensuring that those responsible for her father’s death were dealt with by the law.

    “My mum’s uncle, who was someone leading the establishment of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, urged me to forgive. But that was easier said than done,” Theonila said.

    “Ending up at Divine Word University and taking up Social and Religious Studies was something I clearly did not like. But when I was studying the course and understanding psychology, I decided to turn things around. The impact of Dad’s absence took a toll on us, and my elder siblings could not do anything to change our situation, so I decided to step up and take the lead.”

    Theonila saw that a crucial step toward her family finding closure and healing was to locate her father’s remains. She spoke with her siblings about the importance of forgiveness, finding peace, and healing. Her siblings resented her proposal, but she was determined to go ahead with it.

    “I began to connect the dots and gather information from people about my father’s death and burial,” she said.

    Theonila almost gave up her effort to find answers and heal when she learned about the explicit details of her father’s death, but she decided to keep some details to herself to help her siblings heal.

    “I decided to be positive and kept on telling my siblings about how important it was for us to reconcile, heal, and move on. I told them that there was no turning back, we must go through with the process. We started tracing Dad’s steps back.”

    Theonila said even though those responsible for her father’s death were not willing to face her family, she insisted on going through with the reconciliation process.

    I told them that my family was tired of living in pain. I told them that even if they do not want to forgive us, we want to release them. So, it turned out to be more a process of releasing them for the purpose of freeing ourselves rather than reconciling.

    Eventually, after 22 years, Theonila’s father’s remains were exhumed.

    “After going through so much for many years, I found closure at that moment. I am stronger than I was. I have realized that in life, people can hurt you in many ways, but it is important that you allow yourself to heal and find closure.”

    “There are so many people in Bougainville that need to find closure and heal from the pain. The establishment of the Office of the Missing in Bougainville with the guidance of the International Committee of the Red Cross is crucial for this to happen. If there are thousands of missing persons from all sides of the Bougainville Crisis, just imagine the number of affected individuals and families. The impact of missing persons on families is not only an issue in Bougainville but there are also families in Papua New Guinea who are affected.”

    Theonila is married with two children and serves as a Member for the Ioro Constituency in the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s House of Representatives.

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