Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Timor-Leste

In December 2004, Daniel applied to Australian Volunteers International (AVI), an organisation similar to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), for a placement in a Majority World country. He was offered a position in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as a Project Manager in Western Province with an Australian non-governmental organisation (NGO). Samantha was being offered a position with the same organisation.

However, in early April while in attendance at our pre-departure briefing, AVI informed us that our positions no longer existed! The funding (from the Ok Tedi Development Foundation) was 'redirected' by the provincial health department TO the provincial health department! The decision may or may not have been primarily political, but we suspect it was. Of course it would be better to have the program (that we were going to work on) being run by locals for locals, but it seems the chances of this are rather slim. The money will probably not reach those who it is intended for. That said, we fervently hope it does.

In late March, the PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, was asked to remove his belt and shoes by security personnel at Brisbane airport. This breach of protocol sparked a furore in PNG and resulted in much anti-Australian sentiment. Then in May, the Australian Government was forced to withdraw 148 Australian Federal Police officers who had been working in Port Moresby as part of the $800 AUD million Enhanced Cooperation Aid Program. The PNG High Court adjudicated the legislation granting them their powers and immunity was unconsitutional. Diplomatic talks continue.

AVI subsequently suggested a position in Timor-Leste as Communications Officer/Advisor with a local human rights focussed NGO. Samantha has been given a tentative promise of a position with a women's rights NGO which is yet to eventuate. In a country with over 300 NGO's for a population of just under one million something should be available!

In preparation for our two year move to Timor-Leste, we will both attend the Conference on cooperating with Timor Leste being held in Melbourne from 17-18 June.

We depart for Dili (the capital) via Darwin on Tuesday 28 June 2005. In the meantime, we have been getting vaccinated (Samantha needs 12 shots and Daniel a mere 6 thanks to a previous trip to China in 2002); reading up on Timor-Leste including teaching ourselves the three main languages: Tetum, Portuguese, and Bahasa Indonesian; and stressing about packing up our rented home of 2.5 years in Northcote.

FACTS & BRIEF HISTORY
Up until the turn of this century, Timor-Leste had been under colonial rule for 500 years. The Europeans were first attracted to Timor by the lucrative trade in Timor sandalwood. The island nation was colonized by the Portuguese (becoming Portuguese Timor) in the East during the 1500s and the Dutch in the West during the 1600s. However, the partioning of Timor was a slow process. The two powers initially clashed in the region in 1613. They first attempted to formalize their possessions on the island in 1859, but only reached a final settlement in 1916. As part of the worldwide decolonisation movement of the post WWII period, Portugal left (effectively abandoned) Timor-Leste in 1975 (West Timor became a part of Indonesia in 1949 after the Dutch left). The East Timorese had decided to become an independent nation when in late 1975, Indonesia invaded and claimed the country as its twenty-seventh province through forcible integration. For the next 25 years, hundreds of thousands of people were killed and tortured as Indonesia tried to suppress the Timorese spirit (it is estimated that one third of the population lost their lives during this time). Not one country came to their aid, and one of the worst offenders was Australia who did nothing, even in the face of horrendous human rights abuses. Finally in 1999 the East Timorese, with the aid of the United Nations (UN), voted for independence and in 2002, a democratically elected government was sworn in. Their president is the resistance leader Xanana Gusmao and the First Lady his second wife, the Australian born and raised Kirsty Sword Gusmao (who incidentally, met Xanana while she was working for AVI!)
Timor-Leste is ranked 158 (out of 177 countries) on the UN's Human Development Index (HDI). It is the worst performer in East Asia and the Pacific. In comparison, Australia is ranked number 3.
Here are some brief figures from the UN's HDI report and Country Fact Sheet for Timor-Leste. (As a comparison, the numbers following in brackets are for Australia; to compare with your own country see here).
  • Life expectancy 49 (79)
  • Probability at birth of not surviving to age 40, 33% (to age 60, 8.8%)
  • Total fertility rate (births per woman) 8.3 (1.7)
  • Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) 89 (6)
  • Under 5 mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) 126 (6)
  • Adult literacy 59% (99%)
  • GDP per capita US$497 (US$28,260)
For those interested in finding out more about Timor-Leste, we recommend the following sites.
Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

Português/Portuguese Français/French Deutsch/German Italiano/Italian Español/Spanish 日本語/Japanese 한국어/Korean 中文(简体)/Chinese Simplified

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