Subject: SP-I: Help's brewing in fund-raiser for East Timor

Monday, July 28, 2003

Pacific Currents: Help's brewing in fund-raiser for East Timor


In an effort to help in the rebuilding of East Timor and to show the positive side of U.S. links to other countries, students at Nova, a small, democratically run public high school here, have formed a sister school relationship with a school in East Timor.

As part of the relationship with Kay Rala, a secondary school with 131 students, Nova students have organized an ongoing fund-raising drive: offering the bulk sale of organically grown, fair-trade-certified East Timorese coffee. Each pound of coffee sells for $10 and all profit goes to the sister school in Manatuto and to a health clinic in Dili, the capital.

"At a time when our government is so disliked in so many parts of the world, we feel that the sister school campaign is a positive way for us to show on a school-to-school, person-to-person basis that many people in the U.S. care about the human rights and democratic possibilities for people around the world," said Ashley Barnard, 16, the Nova student who coordinated the sister school campaign.

Wednesday, the East Timor Action Network and students from Nova will send a check for $3,600 to their sister school in Manatuto, north of the capital.. A sending-off ceremony is planned for 1 p.m. at the International District Post Office, 414 Sixth Ave. S.

This will be the second gift sent by the students from Nova, who are working in collaboration with the East Timor Action Network, "a grass-roots pro-democracy group" founded in 1991 to help carry out educational and lobbying work in the United States on East Timor, and with the Seattle-East Timor Relief Association, founded last year to provide support for education and health care in East Timor.

The first check the students sent was for $900, according to Joe Szwaja, the students' teacher and a longtime ETAN member.

Szwaja said the school in East Timor, ransacked and burned by Indonesian soldiers during their scorched earth campaign after East Timor voted for independence in August 1999, used the Nova students' gift to replace windows throughout the school. But, he said, the school still needs everything from desks to pencils.

Some of the money also will be used so destitute families, who otherwise would not be able to send their children to school, can pay the required $3.50 attendance fees. East Timor, a Portuguese colony until 1975, became the world's newest independent nation in May of last year after 26 years of brutal occupation by Indonesia.

The United States gave billions of dollars in military and economic aid to Indonesia during that country's illegal occupation of East Timor and provided about 90 percent of the weapons used in Indonesia's invasion of its much smaller southern neighbor, which began Dec. 7, 1975. Six U.S. presidents from Ford to Clinton supported Indonesia's illegal occupation and blocked U.N. efforts to force Indonesia to end its bloody and illegal occupation.

The United States cut off aid to the Indonesian military after its brutal response to the 1999 independence vote in East Timor, but senior Bush administration officials reportedly have decided to release funds for a military training program for Indonesia for fiscal year 2003.

Human rights groups and others concerned about the Indonesian military's poor human rights record and ongoing violent campaigns against its own people in the provinces of Aceh and West Papau have condemned the plan and are urging Congress to strongly protest.

Szwaja said he plans to teach a class at Nova this fall with the help of his student Ashley on the history of East Timor and the sister-school relationship.

Students in the class will take part in regular correspondence and cultural exchanges via mail and e-mail with students from Manatuto, in addition to carrying out humanitarian fund-raising activities and learning about the history of East Timor and the surrounding region.

In addition, Szwaja said, the class will start to lay the groundwork for what Nova hopes will be a school trip to its sister school the following year.

"East Timor is an example where a seemingly hopeless situation was transformed into a success by the courage and activism of people in their own country as well as solidarity of people in the U.S. and all over the world," said Ashley.

"I'm very excited about helping to teach a class on East Timor."

According to another longtime ETAN member, Frank Zucker, who traveled to East Timor to deliver humanitarian aid and share in the independence celebration in May, "a good way to help stop terrorism and promote peace around the world is to oppose U.S. complicity with government-sponsored terrorism."


# For more information on the project or how to help, call Joe Szwaja at 206-523-3278.

# To order organic fair-trade coffee to benefit the sister school and clinic, contact Neil Planert at 206-782-8773.

# For background on East Timor and the history of U.S. involvement, check the national Web site of the East Timor Action Network at

Pacific Currents is a weekly look at issues and personalities around the Pacific Rim. P-I foreign desk editor Larry Johnson can be reached at 206-448-8035 or

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