Subject: BBC - In pictures: E Timor's angel of mercy

news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery 

BBC - In pictures: E Timor's angel of mercy

1. Rescuing people

Since East Timor's independence in 2002, factional fighting has wracked the country and driven thousands from their homes.

Many have fled to Sister Guillermina's convent in Dili.

Sister Guillermina is a university lecturer, but spends much of her time running the camp for people sheltered in the Canossian Sisters of Charity convent.

Tom Greenwood photographed and interviewed the nun known for rescuing people caught up in fighting and stepping in to reason with violent gang members.

2. The crisis

The crisis that turned Sister Guillermina's convent into a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) - one of more than 50 in Dili - began early last year.

A split within the army aggravated simmering regional tensions and much of the country erupted in violence.

In Dili, rival gangs roamed the streets, burning houses and attacking each other with rocks and machetes.

Foreign peacekeepers eventually quelled the unrest. They continue to patrol the capital.

3. Crowded convent

Sister Guillermina's convent used to accommodate 200 girls training to be nuns. Now it shelters at least 2,000 people.

The convent grounds, about the size of a school playground, are full of makeshift tents.

Families sleep on every available surface in the building, including in the kitchen and library. Some boys even sleep on the basketball court.

4. A struggle

For months during the crisis in 2006, the camp received little outside support and five children died of malnutrition.

Now, with the help of numerous charities, proper sanitation and basic healthcare is provided, although malaria, dengue fever and diarrhoea remain problems.

Aid organisations supply rations of rice, noodles and oil.

But providing for so many is a struggle. "Each month the electricity bill is $1,000. For four months we have not been able to pay," Sister Guillermina says.

5. Rock attack

In September 2006, rival gangs surrounded the convent for five days, throwing rocks over the walls. They targeted it for sheltering people from both sides.

Sister Guillermina convinced them to stop.

"I locked the gate. I shouted: 'Please stop stoning because Sister Guillermina is coming'. I am amazed that my voice is so strong at certain times."

She approached the leaders first and then the boys individually. "In times of crisis I kiss and embrace thousands of boys."

6. Dangerous

Working for peace is dangerous, even for nuns. Sister Guillermina has had a knife held to her neck 11 times and a gun pointed to her head three times. "The first time I was scared but then I got used to it."

She confiscates the weapons of gang members in the camp, which include machetes, metal arrows and slingshots.

During the crisis she also found three pistols and 500 bullets buried in the camp's grounds.

7. Maintaining harmony

There are strict rules to maintain harmony within the camp. Talk of "east" and "west" - the regions with mutual grievances - is forbidden, as is the question "Where are you from?" Weapons and alcohol are banned, and the curfew is 2000 hours.

The camp still contains gang members, but for now they have put their differences aside and many act as security in the camp.

"They watch the camp and I watch them," Sister Guillermina says.

8. On call

By day, Sister Guillermina lectures at the national university on administration, ethics and pedagogy.

But her work is often interrupted. "Sometimes when I am teaching I get a call and have to leave the students behind and rescue people," she says.

She has been called to help members of parliament, the children of a brigadier general and even police officers.

Most commonly, however, the calls come from women in labour, who have no access to proper medical care.

9. Cautious optimism

Many East Timorese are disappointed with the country's first five years of independence.

"People thought that once they were free from colonialism everything would be fine," Sister Guillermina says. Instead national unity remains elusive.

Nevertheless, she is cautiously optimistic about the future.

"Hopefully the leaders will help the people restore peace," she says.

"East Timor is rich in natural resources ­ and human resources too. But it needs encouragement developing them."

10. "A blessing"

Sister Guillermina calls being a nun "a great blessing. I am free to save everyone without preference."

She is concentrating on raising money to renovate the convent. Catering to such large numbers has strained the compound's infrastructure, and uncertainty means people are afraid to or unable to go home.

The camp keeps brimming with new arrivals. There have been 103 babies born so far, and only five were girls. "I call the boys the terrorism branch," Sister Guillermina jokes.


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