Subject: Australian Catholics: A place to call home

Australian Catholics WINTER 2004

A place to call home 
Two young men leave one home for another

When they left East Timor more than eight years ago Jose da Costa and Teodozio Ximenes could not be sure that they would ever see their home country again.

They hoped they would, but did not know if their actions as part of the resistance movement meant they would have to live in exile from East Timor forever. Earlier this month their dreams were realised as they returned home to East Timor with the new knowledge and skills they had learnt in Australia.

When they left their homes in 1995 the pair were part of the East Timorese resistance movement which sent East Timorese to Australia and Portugal to raise awareness of their country’s fight against the ruling Indonesians.

Jose and 17 other East Timorese came to Australia by boat. They chose Australia because in the 1990s it had a strong military link to Indonesia which was using its force against the East Timorese. Australia was also chosen because of its link with East Timor during World War II when the East Timorese helped the Australians fight against the Japanese.

When he arrived, Jose was sent to a detention centre in Derby, Western Australia, where he remained for six weeks before being sponsored to go and live in Melbourne.

Teodozio was part of a group that went to Portugal to spread the news of the atrocities that were occurring in East Timor. He stayed in Portugal for three years before heading to Australia in 1998 to learn how to counsel traumatised East Timorese people.

‘We left the country to spread the word about the suffering of our people. We were seeking asylum from the political situation in East Timor and the human rights violations that were occurring’, Jose says.

‘No one knew people were being killed’, Teodozio explains. ‘Because we were spreading news of our people’s struggle I didn’t think we would be able to go back.’

It is a sentiment shared by Jose and no doubt countless other East Timorese still living in Australia.

‘But I always did hope that in ten years East Timor would be free’, Jose says.

Jose has spent the past six and a half years living in Ballarat in a house owned by the Ballarat Province of the Sisters of Mercy. Teodozio has lived there for the past four and a half years.

The house, which has been home to six East Timorese people in the past six and a half years, was set up after the Sisters of Mercy asked the East Timorese community in Melbourne what they could do to help.

The answer was education, so the household was set up for young East Timorese to live in while studying in Ballarat. The house has become known by those who lived there as ‘a place to call home’.

‘We are here and we share as a family’, Jose says of the house in Victoria Street. ‘We look after each other as brothers.’

Jose and Teodozio completed Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Teaching degrees at Australian Catholic University’s Aquinas Campus last year and attended their graduation earlier this month—one day before they flew home.

While excited about the prospect of being able to put their teaching skills to work in East Timor, Jose and Teodozio were sad to leave Ballarat and their friends there—especially Sr Anne Forbes, who lived with them in Ballarat.

‘It’s a mix of sad and happy at the same time’, Jose explains. ‘We have had great support while living in Ballarat. At the same time, we are happy to go back to East Timor to teach, to help the children learn.’

Since he has not been back to East Timor since the country gained its independence five years ago, Jose expects things to have changed quite a bit—especially in the people’s actions.

‘They will be free from fear’, he says. ‘Under the Indonesians they had a lot of pressure. The fear is always difficult.’

Unlike Jose, this will not be the first time Teodozio has been back to East Timor since leaving. He visited in 2000 just after the East Timorese had won their struggle for independence. The thing that struck him most was that 95 per cent of the buildings had been destroyed.

When he returned again to East Timor as part of a Ballarat delegation in June last year, he was happy to note that the East Timorese had started to rebuild their country. Now, armed with their teaching degrees, Teodozio and Jose hope to add to the rebuilding of East Timor through education.

‘I am pleased with what I have learned’, Jose says. ‘Especially the new teaching skills and techniques—I think they will be very useful in East Timor’.

Jose will teach in a school run by Australian Marist Brothers in his home town of Baucau. Having completed a history major at university, he plans to put some of his skills to work teaching students the history of East Timor.

He believes it will be the first time their history will have been taught through the eyes of an East Timorese person, and in their language—Tetum—rather than that of the Indonesians or Portuguese.

Teodozio hopes to find teaching work in Dili so that he can be near his family again.

‘I don’t want to be apart from them anymore’, he says.

Sr Anne is sad to see the pair returning to East Timor, but is supportive of their mission to help those in their homeland.

‘This has been my greatest apostolate. It has been so rewarding’, she says. ‘Ita Nian Rasik’ ­ ‘Our Own’

Releasing a CD in the East Timorese’s language of Tetum was one of Teodozio Ximenes’ assignments at university. Majoring in music in his Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Teaching degree, he recorded the CD ‘Ita Niam Rasik’—translated as ‘Our Own’—as part of his course work. Teodozio wrote most of the songs himself.

While the CD explores the past it is also about the future, about the optimism and hope for East Timor. The title track ‘Ita Niam Rasik’ explains the challenge of preserving and recognising the real identity of those East Timorese exiled from their homeland. The song calls on all East Timorese to make a contribution to their beloved country and its people.

Here is a translation into English of the CD’s title track:

Exiled from one land to another means leaving loved ones and the beloved land behind. Living amongst foreigners without knowing who or what we will become We still sing our songs...

There are so many lands, but they belong to others There are also so many languages different from ours We still speak our own languages...

Counting the days and years, time passes by We do not know when we will return home We will still dance our own dance ‘Tebe’.

Those are the reasons why... Brothers and sisters we should stand up For those who are inside the country counting on us

Hey brothers and sisters, we must wake up now. For the sun rising and shining in our country Hey brothers and sisters, open your eyes and your hearts Our roots and our origin are in our land

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