Subject: Timor Aid: Peace, Love & Democracy for the Enclave of Oecusse

Peace, Love & Democracy for the Enclave of Oecusse

By: Sarah Francis Translators Tomas da Luz & Celso Maijor

In East Timor's district of Oecusse, an enclave incongruously land-locked by West Timor, Antonio Seran leads a Peace Day celebration. Held two days earlier than the official Peace Day, residents of the remote sub-village of Baki do not seem to mind the discrepancy. The theme of Baki's Peace Day celebration is democracy.

The concept of 'democracy' is relatively new to East Timor; its first democratic elections were held only five years ago. Consequently, empowering East Timorese youth to become active citizens is a priority of Timor Aid, East Timor's leading development organisation. Timor Aid's Youth Civic Education Project began in Oecusse three years ago, and covers seven districts nationally. It aims to increase youth understanding of governance issues, enhance their capacity to participate fully in civil society, and to strengthen relationships between youth organisations and decision-makers.

Antonio Seran, or 'Claro' as he is affectionately nicknamed, is the head of the youth civic education steering committee in Oecusse. He has received extensive training in 15 youth civic education topics, been on national and international study tours and undertaken internships as part of the project. Claro talks about how the project has changed his life: "After I completed an internship in Jakarta, the door (to greater opportunities) was wide open. When I run activities now I am not just any staff member but I am in the top position. I am a trainer to other groups. I feel like the sun is shining down on me."

The Peace Day celebration in Baki begins with Claro teaching a small group of youth in their early 20s about democracy. A brainstorm about democracy yields few results; while everyone has heard the term 'democracy' before today, for many this is the first time that its meaning has been properly explained. During the discussion Claro regularly pauses to ensure that he is not proceeding too quickly for his students. As he introduces new concepts to them he asks his class, "Claro?" (meaning 'clear?'), to which his students cheekily reply, "Claro, Senior Claro!" As the sun sets the classroom darkens and the lights do not switch on- electricity is unreliable in Oecusse- yet you can still see the white teeth of Claro's grin, smiling through the dark as he interacts with his students.

Fabiao de Oliveira, Timor Aid's Oecusse District Coordinator, is proud of the district of Oecusse. Its geographical separation from the rest of East Timor may be one reason why its residents have not included themselves in recent bouts of violence. Fabiao believes that the Youth Civic Education Project has also played a part in preventing conflict, through anticipatory programs such as the training of the local martial arts group in conflict resolution. "Fifty people in Oecusse have directly benefited from the Youth Civic Education Project so far," relates Fabiao, "And indirect beneficiaries number more than 2,000 people. After the civic education training, ten percent of participants gained employment or took on leadership positions in their communities." The project, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) through Mercy Corps, is currently in the process of becoming independent of Timor Aid, so that it can be locally sustained without outside technical assistance. The steering committee has been running autonomously for the past month, and is seeking funding to run training sessions in project proposal writing, to further facilitate its transition to independence.

Dust flies into the air and sails over the crowd of onlookers, as the children of Baki begin to dance to the uplifting melodies of Claro's band. The festivities have moved outside now, and the whole village has congregated to witness the event. As the band sings about youth, peace and democracy, the children yell out familiar lyrics and their parents laugh, amused by their unbounded enthusiasm. Feet are stomping, hips are wiggling, and as Claro teases the crowd by asking if the band should stop playing, the children adamantly shout, "No!"

Steering committee members Maria Monteiro and Clotilde Tavares have also benefited from the Youth Civic Education Project. When asked what skills they have gained from the project they nervously giggle, and after much coaxing Clotilde ironically reveals that she is now more confident in public speaking. "Before if someone asked me to publicly speak I was afraid, but now that I have the capacity to I am more confident." Earlier this year on a youth civic education study tour in Maliana, Bobonaro district, Oecusse won the public speaking competition. Maria contributes to Clotilde's answer by saying that she is optimistic about her skills because now she can share her ideas with decision-makers.

As the evening draws to a close, one by one the children of Baki sit down on the ground, weariness setting in after the night's events. The Peace Day celebration is declared a success; Claro's students have even requested that he return to their village on Sunday to continue the youth civic education discussions. The children have been exposed to the campaign's messages in a fun and engaging way, which should increase their receptiveness to youth civic education in the future.

Claro sees the potential for positive change in his country. "In the future I hope that the people of East Timor will understand about democracy, rights and responsibilities, in order to create a national spirit of citizenship."

contact: Sarah Francis External Relations Coordinator Timor Aid Ph: +670 731 2142 

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