Subject: First lady applauds proposal; Plan will aid Timor

Also - Modest mother of the nation; Alola founder on honour roll

Townsville Bulletin/Townsville Sun (Australia)

May 1, 2004 Saturday

First lady applauds proposal Plan will aid Timor

Toni Somes

EAST Timor's first lady Kirsty Sword Gusmao applauded a local government initiative in Charters Towers yesterday, which would bring East Timorese people to North Queensland for vital training.

She said the training project, an initiative of the Dalrymple Shire Council, would help rebuild the world's newest nation as well as build cross-cultural understanding.

"Major bilateral aid projects are great and they are often what we receive as a country, but this is something more intricate. This is an example of one community, Dalrymple Shire Council seeing a need within East Timor and responding directly," she said.

The Australian-born former aid worker and English teacher captured the nation's attention when she married former guerilla leader and now East Timor president Xanana Gusmao in 2000.

She has risen to prominence as a staunch advocate of civil rights, specifically for women and children in her adopted country.

"I am excited about this project. I think as well as building East Timorese people's skills it will build Australian's understanding of East Timor," she said.

"The skills the DSC are offering are basic vocational and trade skills, which are in short supply in East Timor and Charters Towers' climate and rural setting make it an ideal location."

The East Timor-Charters Towers training project has been driven by outgoing Dalrymple Shire Mayor Peter Black, who said his council recognised the plight of East Timorese people and were keen to help.

"These people are trying to rebuild a nation and yet their schools don't have pencils and paper, they don't have enough spanners or pliers, their people don't have plumbing skills or filing skills," he said.

"We saw an opportunity to help train young people so they could go back and rebuild their nation."

While Mr Black admitted initial plans for the training project had been thwarted by bureaucratic red tape he was determined to see it up and running within six to nine months.

"I am determined to see this through. Australia has a long standing relationship with East Timor -- the man from Snowy River rode a horse that was half Timor pony -- we need to do what we can to assist them rebuild the infrastructure destroyed in their fight for independence," he said.

"If enough people believe this project has merit and they do then we will make it work. You only have to look to East Timor for proof of power of the people."

It was a sentiment echoed by East Timor's first lady, who said she believed Australian's compassion for the people of East Timor and their passion for helping others would overcome any obstacles to the project.

She said she would be liaising with a soon-to-be established organisational committee in Charters Towers to determine the specific training needs of East Timorese people.

Her function schedule -- which has included dinners with presidents, prime ministers, the United Nations Secretary-General, heads of the World Bank and Nobel Peace Prize Laureates -- will tonight see her speaking at Charters Towers' inaugural Zonta International Club dinner.


Townsville Bulletin/Townsville Sun (Australia)

May 3, 2004 Monday

Modest mother of the nation 
The first lady of East Timor is nothing but realistic about her situation.

Toni Somes

IT IS an arduous task being "mother of the nation" when you are also the mother of two small boys, but Kirsty Sword Gusmao has never been one to sidestep challenges.

But East Timor's first lady did admit to being slightly weary in Charters Towers yesterday.

It could have been the result of a whirlwind fortnight of official engagements across the country with infants in tow or the fact she is pregnant with her third child.

Either way, the Australian-born wife of President Xanana Gusmao of East Timor is not one to shirk her responsibilities, using her speech at a Zonta International dinner in Charters Towers to raise awareness of her adopted homeland.

In an emotive plea she urged Australians to put pressure on the Howard Government not to shift maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, a move that could cost East Timor billions in oil revenue.

"When you consider Australia is one of the richest countries in the world and East Timor has just been rated the poorest country in East Asia, it's pretty clear which country is in more urgent need of the resources in the Timor Sea," she said.

"East Timor can barely meet the basic needs of its people and we're trying to rebuild a country where 80 per cent of the public and private infrastructure was destroyed in 1999."

With Australian armed forces due home from East Timor this month, she also spoke passionately about the need for an on-going peace-keeping presence in the world's newest nation.

"Peace-keepers have played an integral role in building people's confidence and the region's stability," she said. "Their presence is important psychologically as well as physically and I would like to see their term extended."

Despite Sword Gusmao's ability to articulate the plight of our near neighbours, it was her personal rather than political story that held the audience's interest.

Seemingly very much like the girl next door, she spoke frankly about falling in love with former guerilla commander Xanana Gusmao, and as the president's wife, being bestowed with the "mother of the nation" title.

Their story is straight from a spy novel. She was born in Bendigo, majored in Indonesian at Melbourne University and eventually moved to Jakarta to teach English and work with an Australian aid agency.

In the early 1990s, struck by the injustice of Indonesian occupancy of East Timor, she became involved with the East Timor resistance movement working as an undercover agent.

It was in this role that in a dank Indonesian prison she met the movement's charismatic leader, Xanana Gusmao.

Though they are 20 years apart in age, the couple were drawn to each other and an unorthodox courtship by correspondence ensued. They married after Xanana's release in 2000.

Today they have two children, Alexandre, 4, and Kay Olok, 2, and are expecting their third in November.

But Mrs Gusmao confesses the transition from English teacher and aid worker to first lady has not been easy.

"Nothing prepares you for this role," she said. "If someone had told me 20 years ago that one day I would be married to the president of East Timor I would never have believed them.

"I grew up wanting to be a ballet dancer or a journalist. But I guess in my heart I always sensed my horizons extended beyond Australia."

Now she is married to her adopted country's national hero, a man dubbed the Nelson Mandela of East Asia, and lives in "a very modest" presidential home in the hills above Dili.

"When Xanana was first made president, I had this very well intentioned adviser to first ladies the world over call on me.

"She said the first thing I needed was a private secretary and a marquee for any events I hosted. At that moment I knew she had no idea what my situation was.

"East Timor is the poorest country in the region and as first lady there is absolutely no allowance for me in government budgets."

Instead she relies on sponsorship and funds raised through the Alola Foundation she created to improve the lives of women and children in her new homeland.

Despite the difficult financial situation -- "it is very frustrating to be so dependent" -- her public profile continues to rise. These days she travels extensively, taking her two young sons and their nanny with her.

"It is very important to me that my children are with me. I don't like to be away from them for any length of time," Sword Gusmao said.

It is challenging to be a good mother when, like working women everywhere, I have so many other roles."

But one gets the distinct impression her roles as mother and mother of the nation have top priority.


Melbourne/Yarra Leader (Australia)

May 3, 2004 Monday

Alola founder on honour roll

A FORMER Melbourne University student turned First Lady added her name to Melbourne Council's honour roll last week.

Kirsty Sword Gusmao, wife of East Timor's president Xanana Gusmao, signed the roll during a meeting with Victorian councillors at Melbourne Town Hall. Mrs Sword Gusmao is in Melbourne to promote the Alola Foundation, a charity she founded to support East Timor's women and children following the country's vote for independence from Indonesia. The Alola Foundation has initiated a project to link schools in Melbourne with counterparts in East Timor to provide support and shared understanding of the different cultures.

Workers from the charity's Dili office will visit several Melbourne schools over the next two weeks.

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