Dave Owens is a trustee and writer for the Jobs Research Trust. He decided to go to East Timor as a volunteer late last year and arrived in Dili on November 13. He is working with a local Timorese community group - FUTO. During his time in East Timor he has been writng a fortnightly column about his experiences for The Daily News, his local paper
I came to East Timor with a sense of personal obligation. Watching Dili burn on my television screen, in September 1999, I knew in my heart that the 25 year tragedy of East Timor would have never happened if our governments had not silently condoned it.
Our representatives didn't want to jeopardise the lucrative developing market of Indonesia, so instead of confronting Indonesia over the invasion of East Timor, they went quiet. Our silence invited the Indonesian military to suspend international law and wage war on its tiny neighbour who had just been given its independence from 400 years as a Portuguese colony.
When you look at the facts, our governments, on our behalf, that is, with what they believed was our best interests in mind, traded the lives of 200,000 people for cheap natural resources and markets. Read cheap raw materials and markets as money.
My experience and interest for much of my life has been in the field of job creation and employment. I believe that true social security depends on people having the financial rewards and self respect that having the right to paid work provides. The destruction of the infrastructure of East Timor also destroyed most of the jobs in East Timor. I came to see if I could share some of my work skills.
When my good friend and long time working colleague Vivian Hutchinson suggested our Jobs Research Trust develop this webpage on East Timor, I said yes. I want to help keep East Timor in the public consciousness. The effects of the Indonesian military occupation and their systematic destruction here as they left, will take years to recover from. The people of the countries that ignored the tragedy of East Timor can now begin to make their amends, in their own personal ways. Governments do what they do. But individuals can do things, too, sometimes very effectively.
I'm not talking about appeasing our consciences by donating things that are taking up space around the house. I mean making thoughtful and meaningful contributions to a people who have suffered immense tragedy and are still traumatised as a result of our ignoring their legal and human rights for so many years. We owe them.
I hope this webpage will become a resource for people who want to provide assistance to East Timor. I know from my experience with a local NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) here that it is important that what people contribute is appropriate and goes where it is most useful.
I would also like this to be discussion place for well considered thoughts from people who have been here, and who are here now, and for those who are yet to come, so that other people can learn from them and do our work better.
I want this webpage to inspire and encourage people to make whatever contribution they are capable of to East Timor
Why does East Timor need assistance?
1. Because 70% of the homes, shops,
public buildings, and infrastructure of East Timor were
destroyed in 1999.
1. Because 70% of the homes, shops, public buildings, and infrastructure of East Timor were destroyed in 1999.
2. Because of the sheer enormity of the task, and because the combined resources of the UN and various international NGOs are insufficient to give everybody food, clothing, and shelter, and more importantly, a source of income.
3. Because the cost of basic commodities in East Timor is now four times higher than it was in August 1999.
4. Because 70% of East Timorese are effectively illiterate.
5. Because the number of people with higher education qualifications is extremely low, and insufficient to run an independent country.
6. Because the infant mortality rate is 135 deaths per 1,000 births - the worst among the world's 30 least developed countries and territories.
7. Because Timor is the poorest island in the East Indies archipelago. The prized sandalwood has been plundered. The climate is harsh, the soil poor, the steep terrain difficult to farm. Native Timorese have nothing but small farms, which produce so little that three months of every year are called the “hunger season”.