Subject: Help needed for hearse

Cranbourne Leader (Australia)

December 3, 2003 Wednesday

Help needed for hearse

By Rachel Kleinman

A HEARSE to transport bodies back to remote villages is urgently needed for East Timor's Ermera district, the district administrator says.

Administrator Vitor dos Santos made his plea as representatives from several Melbourne councils paid a visit to the district, two hours drive from Dili, as part of a local government planning conference.

Casey-based Friends of Ermera group has already raised funds for several projects in the district including the rebuilding of kindergartens and schools.

And earlier this year, Casey Council signed a memorandum of understanding to formalise the Friendship City agreement between the two areas.

Piles of boxes containing fabric, sewing machines, typewriters and other goods have been donated by the Friends of Ermera and are slowly being distributed throughout the district.

Speaking through a translator, Mr dos Santos thanked Casey for its help.

But he said a hearse was desperately needed.

Mr dos Santos said many sick people in the district were in need of urgent hospital treatment.

But some people refused to travel to Dili Hospital for treatment because they were concerned that, if they died, there would be no way of getting them back to their village for burial.

Mr dos Santos said many people died unnecessarily because they refused hospital treatment on these grounds and appealed for a donated vehicle that could transport bodies.

Between 90,000 and 100,000 people live in the hillside district of Ermera, which consists of five sub-districts, and is home to the bulk of East Timor's coffee plantations.

The district administrator only receives $2700 a year from the central government to spend on community projects.

The friendship group has already raised thousands of dollars to refurbish two kindergartens and has sent pharmaceutical and medical supplies.

But education and health services needed more funds, he said.

One village primary school a Leader reporter visited recently in the district catered for 110 children in two shifts a day.

But the actual school was wiped out when the Indonesians left in 1999, along with many houses and the area's chicken farming industry and electricity supply.

Classes now take place in the old school office and the school's total resources are desks, chairs, a teacher and a blackboard.

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