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A look at East Timor

23/05/2011: East Timor

East Timor is one of the youngest countries in the world. It was in 1999 that the population voted in favour of independence from Indonesia in a popular referendum. The event was followed by great devastation in the country, with towns burned and thousands of the island’s inhabitants dead. In 2002, with the support of the UNO, the country finally obtained independence. The process was closely followed by Pope John-Paul II, to whom the people are very grateful.

The population of the country is about 1.2 million the majority of them (52%) children and young people less than 15 years old. Indicators show that 42 % of the population live below the poverty line. The economy of most families is based on subsistance agriculture. Those who declare themselves Catholic represent 98 % of the population. The official languages are Portuguese and tetoum, but the most widely used of the 32 existing languages are tetoum and bahasa-indonesia.

The Marist mission in East Timor began in 2000, when the Province of Melbourne took charge of the Catholic Teacher Training Institute in the town of Bacau. Today, Brothers Fons van Rooij, John Horgan and Tony Clark, in collaboration with religious sisters and lay people, are involved in the training of 150 new teachers who will be among those responsible for the construction and development of the country. The Brothers have also created the  Marcellin Champagnat Kindergarten which looks after 24 little children.

The country’s infrastructure is fragile. To travel the 120 km which seperate the capital, Dili, from Baucau takes three hours by car. The towns of the interior suffer from lack of electric powers. Water supply in the homes is a privilege of the capital. Health and education  services are weak and insufficient. Most of the people live on what they produce through agriculture and other small enterprises. The youth have no great prospects of a future  different from their present one. Great progress needs to be made.

On the other hand, there is great potential in the children and young people. Investment has to be made in their formation. The people generally are very intelligent, creative and religious. The government wants to wager on education making the difference. The country has great possibilities for tourism it needs to develop. Its geographic position makes it strategic for maritime commerce. It possesses mineral resources which could contribute to its development. But East Timor needs substantial investments and great international solidarity to consolidate itself as a country.

We Marists are in the process of contributing to this mission. We are called to give more of ourselves for the children and youth of this country. Both the government and the local Church are asking us for greater collaboration. This appeal should touch our hearts and minds. This can be a good opportunity to respond more strongly to the call of the XXI General Chapter, inviting us to « look at the world with the eyes of poor children and young people ».

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Br. João C. do Prado
Director of the Bureau of Mission

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