Subject: Kids' book reaches out to Timorese 

The Age

Kids' book reaches out to Timorese

* Miki Perkins

* May 13, 2009

IT WAS an unlikely meeting of worlds: an Australian children's book read out in Tetum, the national language of East Timor, amid the colonial grandeur of Victoria's Government House.

"Little one, whoever you are, wherever you are, there are children all over the world just like you," read East Timorese student Cristina Freitas.

The crowd that stood before her included the wife of East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, Kirsty Sword Gusmao, as well as Governor David de Kretser and former premier Steve Bracks.

"Joys are the same and love is the same, pain is the same and blood is the same."

The words - rendered into English for the benefit of the audience by a translator - were from a special edition of Australian author Mem Fox's Whoever You Are, which was launched yesterday and is the first Australian children's book to be translated into Tetum.

A joint project between the Alola Foundation, headed by Ms Sword Gusmao, and the National Education and Employment Foundation, the book is designed to encourage a love of reading in East Timor, where about 60 per cent of adults are illiterate.

"Books are often kept away in cupboards because teachers don't know how to use them, " Ms Sword Gusmao said. "It's not enough to put books in their hands, there must be a concerted effort to ensure that books cease to be something foreign, but instead to be used, enjoyed."

About 10,000 copies of the book will be distributed to infant and primary schools in East Timor. It will also be used in in-service training for school teachers.

Ms Freitas, who is studying in Australia, helped translate Whoever You Are into Tetum.

Its gentle tale of universality held appeal for all children, she said. "They learn that we are all the same, and share common feelings."

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