Vol. 8, No. 2
Congress Moves to Renew Military Ties with
Stories from Ainaro
Stories from Ainaro
Our First Sister City Delegation
by Diane Farsetta
In June, three members of ETAN/Madison traveled to our East Timor sister city, Ainaro. For nearly a month, Tom Foley, Mike Iltis and myself met with community leaders, distributed aid supplies, assisted with reconstruction projects, and asked many people what they wanted the future of our sister city relationship to look like. It was the first time any of us had been to Ainaro, a beautiful, isolated region in the country’s mountainous interior.
The main goal of our delegation was to build relationships and work with the community to identify future projects. We brought hand tools, medicines and some money. Although ETAN/Madison worked to form a sister city relationship for more than two years, we had many questions, both for our Ainaro partners and ourselves: Who should we talk to? How could we strengthen local initiatives, and avoid the mistakes other well-meaning foreigners had made? What useful work could we do while there?
Luckily, others helped us. Jen Laakso, a former Madisonian now studying East Timor’s reconciliation process at the University of Queensland, Australia, explained our intentions to Ainaro residents before our arrival. Members of the Ballarat (Australia)-Ainaro “friendship city” group shared their experiences, ideas and contacts. Other Madison sister city organizations briefed us on the power and potential pitfalls of this work. Dr. Dan Murphy at Bairo Pite clinic, friends at La’o Hamutuk monitoring organization, and Yohan with Bibi Bulak theater group, all in Dili, welcomed us to East Timor and introduced us to more allies.
It was an important time to stress that our organization, though small, is committed to an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship with Ainaro. East Timor had celebrated its independence the previous month, and seen the exodus of most international staff shortly thereafter. Although a festive mood still lingered, many people saw the daunting tasks ahead and felt overwhelmed, even abandoned, by the United Nations. It was easy to understand this sentiment: nearly half the houses in Ainaro remain uninhabitable; many schools are without roofs, windows, doors, desks, chairs, and supplies; health clinics are few and lack medicines or trained personnel; and many residents have yet to return from Indonesian West Timor (see refugee article).
Although the needs are great, we also learned how Ainaro is helping itself. Canossian sisters bring a free mobile health clinic to surrounding villages. Local youth, women’s and Church groups were about to open Centro Comunidade Ainaro, to provide community space, sports activities for youth, and training in computers, language and technical skills. Women’s organizations continue their adult literacy and income-generation programs. Newer community efforts assist orphans, and support and improve local agriculture.
We ended our delegation with a long list of potential future projects in education, income generation, agriculture, women’s issues, and local media. Now comes the real work: refining and prioritizing projects, and building the support needed in the U.S. to make them happen.
For more information on sistering, contact ETAN field organizer Diane Farsetta at 608-663-5431 or see ETAN/Madison’s website at www.aideasttimor.org.
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