March 22nd 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The future ... after Iraq

CANBERRA OBSERVED: After Iraq: the challenge facing John Howard

MEDICINE: Leading specialists reject destructive embryo research

BIOETHICS: Embryo research and state laws

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Bazaar politics/Sponsors/Beautiful People socialism

COMMENT: The real culprits in the internet porn scandal

FAMILY: Youth legal guide alarms families

MEDIA: Accord strikes a chord / 'Australian' shake-up a matter of opinion

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Deregulation and water could be a tragedy for National Party

LETTERS: Foreign debt (letter)

LETTERS: The vision thing (letter)

How Australian support is rebuilding East Timor

WATER: Towards healthier river systems: a flawed process

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: The future of non-proliferation treaties

BOOKS: Life, Liberty and the Defence of Dignity, by Leon Kass

BOOKS: Australia And Israel: An Ambiguous Relationship, by Chanan Reich

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How Australian support is rebuilding East Timor

by Br Marcal Lopes

News Weekly, March 22, 2003

East Timor, now officially known as Timor-Leste, became a nation in May 2002. We are not even 12 months old! We are a very poor country and it has been a very tough year.

I have received letters from people abroad asking me to nominate Timor-Leste's greatest need and areas in which they can help. What can I say? We need everything! There are so many demands on all fronts.

There is no doubt that our country has many problems. However, we Timorese must face these problems and try to solve them ourselves - hopefully with the help of our friends from overseas.

Many Timorese expect their Government to provide employment, medical and health services, resources for schools, and maintain law and order, etc.

In reality, the Government has very little income; they don't have money for everything.

The Church has a role and it is making a significant contribution to the country. There is no doubt that the schools and clinics run by religious congregations, are mostly running well, though on very meagre budgets.

The Salesians are heavily involved in education. We have elementary and high schools, two technical schools and agricultural school. These are at Comoro [Dili], Baucau, Fatumaca, Fuiloro, Laga, Lospalos and Venilale.

In my opinion, education is really the key to growth and the rebuilding of the Timor-Leste economy.

We are very grateful to the Australian Salesian Missions Office for their support of our work in education over the past three years.

In the schools our aim is to assist people to acquire skills and the self-confidence to help themselves.

Donations received from Australia have helped pay teacher salaries as well as provide essential resources for the schools. In addition, we have received assistance with the in-service training of teachers through the R E Ross Trust and other programs.

Salesian Missions Australia has also provided significant help "in kind". Goods transported have included:

  • desks and seats for classrooms;
  • filing cabinets and other school furniture;
  • stackable chairs;
  • teaching materials and resources for the classrooms;
  • blackboard paint and brushes;
  • second-hand computers;
  • equipment for our technical school workshops
  • workshop materials, including electrical equipment, power supplies, welding gear, woodwork glue, etc;
  • hand tools;
  • agricultural equipment, including tractor spare parts;
  • school stationery;
  • sporting equipment.

These donations "in kind" have been especially welcome at the school where I am Headmaster - Don Bosco Technical School Fatumaca - as they have helped us reduce costs and improve the quality of our teaching.

Our school has four sections: carpentry, electrical, machine tools and electronics; we also teach basic academic subjects. There are 270 students, aged 16-22, and they board at the school. Our fees have always been very modest - US$5 per month. However, it is no simple matter to:

  • feed 270 students three meals a day;
  • purchase fuel to run the generators daily;
  • get the materials required for our workshops;
  • maintain and repair equipment in the workshops; and
  • cover other expenses associated with the day-to-day running of the school.

I know that Don Bosco Fatumaca makes a reasonable contribution by helping provide Timor-Leste with people skilled in the building, metal, electrical and motor trades.

The students who complete the courses at Fatumaca secure jobs - some as motor mechanics, carpenters and electricians - though there is still not much happening in the local building industry. Many, however, are working in their villages, and some have set up repair shops. A good number are teachers, and others are working in Dili: at the airport, in radio communications, publications, etc.

Australian Salesian Missions support has also included assisting several small self-help income generating ventures such as helping with the logistics of the Dairy Project at Don Bosco Agricultural School, Fuiloro, established by Kiwanis International [Australia District].

I will be involved in a National Education Conference in Dili during April 7-11, 2003. The aim of the conference is to work towards an overall educational strategy for the nation and to develop guidelines for a Timorese school curriculum. There will be about 300 participants from all the education sectors.

The conference will look at different challenges facing Timor-Leste, including the complementary roles of academic, technical and vocational education.

I think the conference will have far reaching implications for education at all levels and the rebuilding of the nation. However, I don't expect any quick and easy solutions to our problems.

Australian role

As I said above, we are indeed fortunate to have support from Australia. Considerable help has been provided to our schools over the past three years, without which I don't know where we would be today.

While it is our aim to be self-reliant, I know we will need further support from outside for some time yet. And I hope our friends will continue to assist us via the Salesian Missions Office

Finally, I express my hope that Australians will continue to be patient and understanding of the needs of their new neighbour, Timor-Leste. Our nation is still in its infancy and I have no doubt we need help from our friends from the Land Down Under !

Br Marcal Lopes
Timor Leste
February 23, 2003

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