Subject: He's ready to make a mark on Timor

Nationwide News Pty Limited

Weekly Times (Australia)

January 16, 2002, Wednesday

He's ready to make a mark on Timor


HE HAS learned to drink beer, can do "half a doughnut" in a ute and likes his steak grilled, with mashed potato and sauce.

He is also entrepreneurial, hopes to have his own farm-related business one day and is passionate about sharing his knowledge.

Sancho da Silva sounds a lot like your typical student, and in many ways he is. But ask him about life before he reached University of Melbourne's Longerenong College, Horsham, and it is a different story.

While most of his classmates were growing up on Australian farms or in towns, Sancho lived in East Timor under what was then an oppressive Indonesian regime.

His childhood memories include times visiting his father, a political prisoner, in a hotel that doubled as a jail.

Here Sancho and his siblings would hear inmates being beaten and notice some go "missing" between visits.

School was regimented, with soldiers and foreign priests among the teachers and little time for play.

At home the family faced impromptu visits from Indonesian soldiers who would search the house, sometimes taking things.

Then Sancho began working with youth and attending demonstrations and life became dangerous for him and his family.

He left East Timor, via Bali, in 1995 and arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker. Here, he could attend demonstrations without fear and he began learning to speak and write English. Not long after he arrived a Ballarat nun from the Sisters of Mercy visited East Timor.

So moved was she by the country's plight she asked Melbourne's East Timorese community how she could help. The answer was "education".

Sister Anne Forbes really became Sancho's sister of mercy. Through her help, and funds contributed by people all over the state, Sancho and several other young East Timorese people have gained their VCE at Damascus College, Ballarat, and continued tertiary studies.

While most opted for teaching, Sancho, who spent many childhood hours on farms with his veterinarian father, wanted to study agriculture.

"I admire Sancho very much. He could have had a teaching scholarship, but was determined to do agriculture," Sister Anne said.

After visiting several colleges, Sancho decided on Longerenong, where he also gained a scholarship.

He is part way through a Certificate IV in Agriculture course and plans to do a diploma of rural business management next year.

It has not always been easy but Sancho has thoroughly enjoyed his time at agricultural college, where not only has he learned about many aspects of agriculture, but he has also received an education in Australian culture.

After a childhood filled with rules and restrictions, he is enjoying the freedom of Australia.

"There is no one here to tell you what to do. It is totally different. Nothing to compare," he said.

Before fleeing to Australia, Sancho was studying at an agricultural college and he hopes to work or teach there on his return.

"One day I would like to have my own business. I would love to run a piggery in East Timor, " he said.

Demand for pigs in East Timor exceeds supply and Sancho sees the potential, especially when it is so close to other Asian markets.

Initially he hopes to establish a pig herd at his former college, where students could use it for training.

There are also ideas for including a broiler farm and possibly cattle in future curriculum.

"I want to do it in the college so people can learn. I hope funds can be found (for such developments)," Sancho said.

And while the dryland cropping of the Wimmera is a far cry from tropical East Timor, Sancho is not ruling anything out.

"We don't have the big machinery or the big crops that you have here in the Wimmera, but I'm still very interested in cropping," he said.

"You never know, in five years East Timor might grow canola," he said.

Sister Anne describes Sancho as a little entrepreneur. "He is just so single-minded about the need to help East Timorese and about how things can be done well. One day he will make his mark," Sister Anne said.

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