Subject: 28,000 Teddy Bears for East Timorese Kids

Australian Broadcasting Corporation AM News, Monday, December 20, 1999 8:16

Operation Teddie

COMPERE: As the first full unit of Australian troops left East Timor yesterday, a formidable new force landed in the territory. Twenty-eight thousand teddy bears donated by Australians have infiltrated East Timor and will be deployed throughout the territory by the end of the week. Geoff Thompson reports on the logistical challenge faced by 'operation teddy'.

GEOFF THOMPSON: For the first time in East Timor's history Santa rides into the mountain village of Omera [phonetic]. On this occasion the gifts were of a practical kind - school books and pens for East Timorese kids. But by the end of this week just about every child in East Timor will have a new friend for Christmas. Twenty-eight thousand teddy bears have begun their march across East Timor, carrying a message of goodwill from Australian donors. Commodore Brian Robertson guided the teddies across the Timor Sea, and he's now relying on the combined forces of INTERFET and aid agencies to complete the bear invasion.

BRIAN ROBERTSON: All these organisations are out there seeing where people need assistance, helping them rebuild their lives, get them back on their feet and distributing food. And as part of that we're hoping the teddy bears will be able to go along for the ride and be delivered to the kids.

GEOFF THOMPSON: Shelter is only just beginning to arrive for the people of East Timor. There's going to be some wet teddies around, aren't there?

BRIAN ROBERTSON: [Laughs] I don't think so. But I think teddies are so special, they'll be looked after very carefully. Once they're in the hands of the children of course there's no guarantee at all. I have heard that the children don't have pillows. So many of the teddies might be used for pillows and to increase their level of comfort as well as companionship.

GEOFF THOMPSON: There's no real tradition of teddy bears in East Timor. Do you think it is an appropriate gift?

BRIAN ROBERTSON: It's an interesting question - that. We've certainly asked whether these sorts of things would be considered to be offensive. I don't think anybody could be offended by a teddy bear. And we've already distributed some, and the glee on the faces of the children tells it all I think.

GEOFF THOMPSON: I understand that Bishop Belo did have some problem with the teddies being delivered at this time, or whether they were appropriate at all.

BRIAN ROBERTSON: I think Bishop Belo - and you'd have to ask him this - was a bit concerned that the children would be swamped with things which are outside their experience. He asked I believe that they didn't occur directly at Christmas because for them it's very much a religious time and it's a family time, and the focus is not so much on the giving of gifts or the commercialisation of Christmas. And obviously we would wish to respect that.

GEOFF THOMPSON: The bears do have the blessing of East Timor's CNRT vice-president Jose Ramos Horta.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: I will take them. If no-one else wants, well, bring them to my place and I'll give them one by one in due course.

COMPERE: Jose Ramos Horta.

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