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Home » , , , » West Papua: Breaking the Wall of Silence

West Papua: Breaking the Wall of Silence

Written By Voice Of Baptist Papua on June 13, 2011 | 5:20 PM

In November 1998 the ABC television news and current affairs program, Lateline, broadcasted a report entitled “Sins of the Brothers”. This was a harrowing report that helped to lift the lid on the terrible abuse of children under the care of the church in Australia.
Twelve years earlier a British social worker by the name of Margaret Humphrey was ambushed in her hometown of Nottingham by a desperate Australian woman exclaiming “I want to find out who I am”!
Charlotte had journeyed from Melbourne to the United Kingdom in search of her mother. Her story starts as a four year old in a Nottingham children’s home where she was then put on a boat and sent to Australia.  Margaret soon encounters other people with similar stories and this marks the beginning of a long campaign to break the cover-up concerning the forced separation and then the deportation of children to Australia between 1947 and 1967. Many of these children were abused and consigned to a life of slavery.

The film, Oranges and Sunshine, tells this sad story. It’s a challenging, powerful experience and I was deeply moved especially as the film focuses on Bindoon, an institution near Perth that took in young boys. Margaret travels to Bindoon with Len, a middle aged man who, as a child, was forcibly separated from his mother, shipped out to Australia and placed under the care of a religious order there. Margaret and Len approach the ornate stone edifice and they go into the large dining room where they come face to face with a group of Christian Brothers.
It’s an awkward, tense scene. No words are said. Keeping in mind all the abuse that has taken place in Bindoon, the silence is incredibly stifling. It’s haunting and rather unnerving. The brothers just look. They have nothing to say. They simply stare at Margaret and Len.
The film continues. But I am left with that silent, unnerving stand-off in the dining room. The stifling, oppressive silence says so much to me. And it’s not simply about Bindoon or the terrible abuse of young boys that took place there. Indeed, it’s not just about the “forgotten children” who were forcibly taken from their mothers and shipped out to Australia. Rather, the scene in the Bindoon dining room speaks loudly about the appalling wall of silence that conceals so many critical issues across the world today.
Here I am confronted with the Australia’s silence over the marginalization of indigenous Melanesians in West Papua. I am outraged by the international community’s refusal to acknowledge war crimes that took place in Sri Lanka recently.
This wall of silence upsets me as so little is said about the appalling trafficking of human life in many parts of the world. This absent voice is a scandal as some 64 million people are on the move across the globe. Many are asylum seekers fleeing persecution and seeking nothing more than a decent, secure life.
Oranges and Sunshine is an excellent movie and I recommend it. The story shows how Margaret Humphrey lifts the veil and breaks the wall of silence on an iniquitous program that forcibly separated and shipped 130,000 children to commonwealth countries. And importantly, the movie raises the question of a deafening silence that sadly pervades so much of where we are at.
UnitingWorld is determined to break this wall of silence. In our commitment to West Papua, we are supporting education and health programs with our partner church. In Sri Lanka we are supporting welfare programs that minister to the victims of war crimes and in Himalayas we are working with the Church of North India to rehabilitate young women rescued from the human trafficking trade. In the Philippines, East Timor and Indonesia we are engaging with local churches to develop capacity so they can effectively minister to vulnerable communities.
Whether its apathy or a basic lack of interest, whether its an intentional attempt at self preservation or just plain fear, the walls of silence surrounding critical issues of our time must come down. UnitingWorld is proactive here. So why not join us? Details of our projects and our commitments are available on the UnitingWorld
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