Subject: IPS: Timor Aid Helps Residents Deal w/ Post-Conflict Trauma


DILI, East Timor, Aug. 14, 2007 (IPS/GIN) -- A nongovernmental group called Timor Aid is slowly building a network of teachers, police officers, midwives and nuns in East Timor who are familiar with strategies for helping others heal from trauma.

Filipe de Carvalhos, a 35-year-old physical education teacher, is one of the many participants in the program. Shy by nature, he said training in trauma healing has helped him to become more self-confident and to relate better with his students.

"I am a nervous person but thanks to this training, I have a better relationship with my students. ... I have already managed to get some of them to tell me what they have seen, what troubles them," he said.

De Carvalhos teaches at a secondary school in Manatuto district, east of Dili. When his school received an invitation to select teachers for a course in trauma healing, he was chosen to attend.

Timor Aid provides relief, reconstruction and development assistance in East Timor, a tiny country squeezed between Indonesia and Australia that has had more than its fair share of trauma. Specifically, the training tries to address the psychological trauma lingering in the population due to violence that swept the country in 1999 and 2006.

In 1999 East Timor voted overwhelmingly to separate from Indonesia, which had invaded it in 1975. The United Nations-sponsored referendum was, however, followed by a spate of violence. The retreating Indonesia army and its proxy civilian militias left a trail of blood: An estimated 1,500 were killed and 70 percent of the country's infrastructure was destroyed. The horror of that period lingers on in people's minds.

Last year East Timor danced on the brink of civil war with the scars of the 24-year violent resistance taking the shape of a division along geographical lines, namely between the loromonu and lorosae. The first are native to the western part of the country and the latter are native to the eastern districts. The lorosae accuse the loromonu of poor commitment during the resistance war. The issue, which surfaced as a split within the security forces, was mishandled by the political elite and led to civil and political disorder. More than 130 people have died since, and about 150,000 people have had to abandon their homes.

De Carvalhos is one of almost 60 people from eight of East Timor's 13 districts who are attending a series of trauma training workshops. In addition to school teachers such as Filipe, the group includes police officers, firefighters, nuns and midwives.

Dilly Barek Daten, the 25-year-old Timor Aid trauma healing project coordinator, said the project has gradually gained the people's trust since its launch in 1999. She emphasized that the lack of funding is limiting its potential to benefit people at the grassroots level.

"When we first proposed this kind of training in the different districts, people would tell us that trauma healing was not their priority and that they needed shelter and food supply. But little by little, the volunteer trainees began to feel the benefits of this project," she said.

"A lot of them say they can better control their emotions and are [more] willing to help others who faced similar difficulties. Today, the candidates go through a process of selection because we have a lot of demand and a small budget," she said.

Sponsors of the project include the European Commission and the Austrian Development Agency. During the last seven years, 480 volunteers have been trained.

As Daten explained, the trauma healing project aims to start a "two-step flow" whereby the volunteer trainees become national trainers and disseminate their knowledge in their respective districts, creating a reaction chain across the country.

"Although this will take some time, we can hope the outcome of this kind of project in post-conflict situations will be evident in the well-being of the population in the long term," she said.

California-born Joan Condon, a trainer for Capacitar International, helps Timor Aid run the training. The Capacitar methodology allows trauma victims to talk about what has happened and about what they have witnessed. It also encourages them to see a connection between past trauma and current symptoms in order to overcome their trauma.

"Capacitar is used in countries around the world to deal with mental and physical trauma in post-conflict situations," Condon said.

"In the last few years, Capacitar International has been committed to communities affected by violence on all four continents, in countries like Rwanda, Venezuela, Haiti or Bolivia. It has proved its efficiency in a variety of situations and environments," added the trainer, who has spent the last eight years of her life working with different communities of Central America.

Carolina Dos Santos, a 35-year-old policewoman from the district of Liquica, swears by the training.

"I have learned a lot in here, and I intend to use it to help others now," she said.

"As a police officer, I often deal with trauma victims, like women who have been subject to sexual abuse or children who have seen horrendous things during the events of 1999 and 2006. This training will help me to deal with them better," she said, drawing nods of agreement from other participants.

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