Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Timor Leste - a life changing experience

Through a stationary drive back in December 2012 the Aurecon Brisbane office managed to accumulate 70 boxes of donated stationery goods and over $3000 in cash donations. With the help of Rotary, we delivered classroom furniture, stationary, computers and sports equipment to 5 schools and an orphanage in Timor. We also managed to start the building of a water supply and toilets for a school with 500 children and no running water.

Timor Leste has suffered through its colonial history, and Australia owes a debt to the people of this tiny nation who have supported us at every turn.

I will never forget about the youngest nation in the World, their relationship with Australia, and the thousands of smiles we saw through the school donation program.

An absolutely massive thanks to everyone who made this happen.  We funded ourselves to get over to Timor Leste, but were supported by Aurecon by way of time. The very generous people of Aurecon in the Brisbane office donated SEVENTY boxes worth of stationary. The lovely people at Rotary arranged the donations of classroom furniture, computers and shipping.  

A mammoth thanks to Vici for the hugely discounted netballs, footballs and beach volleyballs - they were a massive hit!  The Timorese had never seen a football and initially wanted to kick it along the ground like a soccer balls, but they soon got the hang of it. 

A massive thanks to Hart Sport who gave us discounted rates for skipping ropes, frisbees and soccer balls. 

We spent hours of fun with the kids, the problem was they wouldn't frisbee to each other, it was always back to one of us.  

We also learned A LOT of the history of Timor Leste, from the Portuguese colonisation in the 16th centuary, through to the Japanese occupation during WWII. Australia needed East Timor to stay strong to avoid Japanese invasion of Australia.  The limited number of Australian troops held the tens of thousands Japanese at bay by the help of Kriadu's - 8 to 13 year old Timorese locals who buddied up with the troops and helped feed, shelter and guide the Aussies.  When Australia left Timor Leste the Japanese punished all locals who assisted the resistance, and 200,00 were killed, or died through famine and disease.

In 1975 Portugal left East Timor and nine days later it was invaded and occupied by Indonesia. The "Balibo five" - five young Australian and British journalists risked their lives to attempt to show the world what Indonesia was doing to Timor Leste.  They set up camp in Balibo - very close to the West Timor/Indonesian border, and painted their office with an Australian flag and the world Australia.  The local resistance fighters - the Felantil warned the journalists that the Indonesian military were about to cross the border, but the journos stayed strong, and got some great images of Indonesian war ships. Three of the Balibo five were shot in the head, one was stabbed and the other brutally tortured. The Australian Government turned a blind eye to this. The Indonesian Government said they got caught in a cross fire.

One brave reporter journied to Timor Leste to find out the truth of what really happened to the Balibo five, and he bravely stayed til the end, proclaiming himself an Australian journalist until he got shot in the face on a pier in Dili.

In 1989 when Pope John Paul the 2nd visited Timor Leste was when the call to freedom was first seen by the international community.  Under indonesian military guard, only a limited number were allowed to see the Pope give mass.  They went in under a facade of pro-Indonesia with Indo flags, but when they were in the compound, and in front of the media, released their Timor Leste flags, and their desperate message was seen by the world. Of course there was violent retaliation by the Indonesians, but the Timorese were very clever, and saw this as a very good option. The Indonesians wouldn't allow the Pope to kiss the ground as he ceremoniously did at all countries he visited, so the Timorese arranged for soil from all districts far and wide to be delivered, put on a plate, and presented to the Pope to kiss the soil of Timor Leste.

On October 28 1991 an eight year-old boy called Sebastiao Gomes was leaving the church above in Dili, and was shot dead by Indonesian military.  Two weeks later there was a demonstration at the cemetery Santa Cruz in retaliation for this meaningless murder. The Indonesian military didn't appreciate such voices of freedom and massacred 250 students at the gate of the resting place of Sebastiao Gomes.

In 1999 the new Indonesian President decided the Timorese could vote for freedom, the problem was the Indonesian military paid Timorese to form pro-Indonesian militia to cause as much havoc as possible. The militia would torture people who wanted to register to vote, they intimidated and caused general unrest.  The UN was called in, but unarmed to arrange the referendum. The Timorese had signed a cease-fire, so the Felantil had to hide in the mountains.  

The Timorese had an overwhelming vote for freedom, and in retaliation the Indonesian military and militia pillaged, raped, murdered and ruined all types of infrastructure.  the church above is the Catholic church in Liquica where no bodies were found but 30-300 are estimated to have been massacred AFTER the vote for freedom!  

I encourage you all to research what you can on Timor Leste, purchase their coffee (their second largest export behind oil/gas) and keep in contact if you would like to find out how to sponsor a childs' education for less than $10/month!  Rotary are doing brilliant things over in Timor Leste, and I am looking forward to going back there and helping in any way possible.  The next round of donated goods has already started :)

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