Subject: Aussie kids embrace Timor mates

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Australian March 25, 2003

Aussie kids embrace Timor mates

By Sascha Hutchinson

EAST Timor, which lost almost 90 per cent of its school infrastructure to militia violence, is receiving a helping hand from Australian school children.

The first lady of East Timor ­ Australian-born Kirsty Sword Gusmao ­ visited her alma mater yesterday to launch the Friendship Schools Project, aimed at forming partnerships between Australian and East Timorese schools.

Eaglehawk Primary School, where Ms Sword Gusmao was a student in the 1970s, her late father was principal, and her mother a music teacher, has struck up a special friendship with Balibar Primary School in East Timor.

The relationship was fostered through Ms Sword Gusmao's Alola Foundation, and she hopes it can be expanded to include other Australian schools.

Balibar is close to the home she shares with her husband, East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao, and children, two-year-old Alexandre and seven-month-old Kay Olok.

Ms Sword Gusmao said the program aimed to raise awareness about the reality of living in the tiny country.

"There's certainly a huge need for support for the schools in East Timor," she said.

"Between 80 and 90 per cent of school infrastructure was destroyed during the post-ballot violence in 1999. So there's a huge job in just rebuilding the physical infrastructure. It's a very long process.

"I think at a basic level most schools have basic conditions to get kids back to school and have classes up and running. But that's not to say this is adequate." Balibar previously had four buildings to house its 200 students. Now they all share one classroom.

East Timor has one teacher for every 62 students. Not only are they short on basic provisions, such as pencils and exercise books, but many qualified teachers fled East Timor to escape the militia violence in 1999.

At Eaglehawk Primary School, near Bendigo in Victoria, children have spent the past six months collecting resources to help not only Balibar Primary, but also two other schools in remote East Timor.

The school has sent furniture, clothing, bedding, shoes, books and stationery to the children at Balibar.

They have also exchanged photo albums and gifts.

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