Subject: Born in Warfare, E. Timor Learns New Skills for a Peaceful Future

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Observer [UK] Sunday December 19, 2004

Nation born in warfare learns new skills for a peaceful future

John Vidal Barikafa in East Timor

Celestino Hornay will run out of food in a few weeks. He and and his family in the village of Iutu will dig tubers and hunt chickens and pigs with spears, but they will be lucky to eat once a day until their first small maize crop is harvested in March.

The children will be malnourished, most will probably fall ill, and there will be no food aid because Iutu's needs have never been assessed by the United Nations.

But the family does not mind too much, because this should be the last year that anyone in Iutu goes hungry.

Just down the hill from Celestino's house in the Luro district are five ponds stocked with at least 400 fish. In September this co-operative farm, run by nine families who have been trained in aquaculture, will harvest its first catch. It should earn them $600 (£315) - enough to buy food against the annual hungry season, improve their diet and expand the farm.

East Timor, or Timor Leste, as it has been known to its people since the Indonesian army was thrown out after 24 years in 1999, is learning to stand on its own. But it is hard for one of the poorest countries in the world.

Celestino came back to Iutu in 1999 after years of being a resistance fighter. He found every house had been burnt down and most of the trees had been felled. And because he and many others had been living in the forest for so long, they no longer had the skills to farm.

Three years after full independence, he has a future thanks in part to a training project run by the develop ment charity Concern, which is working with more than 30 groups in 19 communities in the Luro area.

'Many are having to start almost from scratch,' says Romulo Estrada, Concern's Filipino programme manager in Luro. In a three-year push, three other fish farms have been set up; 11 communities have their own poultry projects; three villages have installed safe water supplies; and dozens of groups are learning to conserve soil and water, farm on steep land, grow new kinds of crops and avoid flash floods. Some villages have set up their own community banking system, others are learning better ways to preserve food.

'Everything is designed to help people build their livelihoods. They have decided for themselves what they think are the most important ways to develop their communities,' says Estrada.

Ten miles away from Celestino's fish farm, 24 women and six men have set up a shop in the village of Afaia. Given $100 by Concern to buy stock and cement for the foundations, they now have a shop that doubles as a community centre and cafe.

In the last year they have turned their $100 into $1,682 and distributed a further $500.

The women, especially, are ambitious for change. They have just moved into chicken rearing, which already gives them 24 eggs a day, and will soon open a community rice mill provided by Concern.

'People will come a long way to have their rice milled. We will make a profit but we are not trying to make money, only to improve the life of the community,' says Ajilda Jesus Fernandez, one of the group members.

The nearby village of Usuvasu is hoping that a carpentry project will bring money into the community. Twenty-one men have been sent to the capital, Dili, for three weeks' training in how to use traditional and power tools. They have built themselves a workshop and recently had their first commission - a 6ft-high teak cupboard which will earn $200. 'We are optimistic that people will want to get us to make things,' says Simeon de Jesus Mxoreuira, the group chairman.

The fact that there is no road to the village does not dampen enthusiasm. 'This area was abandoned for 10 years when the Indonesians came. Now we are working for the future,' he says.

Gaspar Jabier, the young chief of the district, says: 'This is like a new village. We only came back here two years ago. People have had to learn to farm and do many other things. The Indonesians cut down all the big trees and now erosion is worse. So we have planted trees and set up a nursery. We're also learning about soil conservation.'

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