Subject: AU: Timor's helping hand

The Australian

April 9, 2003 Wednesday

Timor's helping hand

Jim Buckell

EDUCATIONAL links forged by President Xanana Gusmao and his wife Kirsty Sword-Gusmao in Melbourne are building programs to assist East Timor's devastated schools and colleges.

The two have spent a good deal of their visit to Australia cementing ties at Victoria University, the University of Melbourne and primary and secondary schools that they hope will reap rewards for the country's war-torn educational institutions.

Up to 80 per cent of East Timor's schools were damaged in the conflict during the lead-up to the independence ballot in 1999, and rebuilding and re-equipping them is a priority.

As the founder and patron of the Alola Foundation, Ms Sword-Gusmao has been promoting its Friendship Schools program, which encourages Australian and East Timorese primary and secondary schools to establish links and exchange gifts, ideas and resources.

She kick-started the program by helping to build such a link between her old primary school, Eaglehawk, in Bendigo, Victoria, and the primary school nearest to home in Balibar, in the hills south of Dili.

Those close ties have been a way into the program that has worked well on this project and others. "They've responded enthusiastically because of me -- I'm the human face of East Timor for them, the children at Eaglehawk," Ms Gusmao-Sword told the HES.

the collection point for donations of furniture, equipment, clothing, household items, anything that is of use to the East Timor school and neighbouring families.

The Friendship Schools Program will also help the Alola Foundation in its role as administrator of a $200,000 Melbourne University scholarship scheme to assist female students to complete secondary school.

"We will develop a very extensive network of schools through the Friendship Program and we will use those networks to establish a way of identifying the most needy scholarship candidates," Ms Sword-Gusmao said.

At Victoria University last week, Mr Gusmao was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree for his part in building the new nation.

The university has an agreement to provide courses and training for East Timor's main vocational education college, the Dili Institute, represented in talks last week by board member Ms Sword-Gusmao.

"It's a valuable strategic partnership ... Xanana has been very encouraging of the Dili Institute since its inception because he sees a huge need for technical and vocational education at this time of rebuilding," Ms Sword-Gusmao said.

"There's very little need for graduates in academic areas. There's only going to be jobs in vocational areas, agriculture, trades, builders, mechanics, computer technicians, things like that."

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