spacer Catholic Relief Services' response to East Timor
Source: Catholic Relief Services 
Date: 13 Mar 2001

During the month of February, the East Timorese found themselves battling a host of natural disasters. Catholic Relief Services/East Timor staff are providing aid to the most affected populations. "Despite the obstacles presented by the cyclone and heavy rains, flooded mountain roads and small-scale landslides, Catholic Relief Services emergency relief and agricultural recovery teams were out in full force in February," said Jamie Davies, Catholic Relief Services' Country Representative for East Timor. Specifically, Catholic Relief Services has:

Provided over 5,000 people with items such as tarpaulins and blankets for protection against heavy rain and winds. Provided food for nearly 40,000 of the most vulnerable members of the population. Distributed vegetable seeds and agricultural tools to nearly 2,000 farmers in the Baucau and Viqueque Districts. Initiated training sessions for farmers and fishermen that will help them increase their harvest production

The distribution of seeds and tools along with the training sessions for farmers has been especially important to the Timorese as they are a mainly agricultural society. The Agency has responded to local requests to make agriculture one of its main program areas by initiating a wide range of activities that include everything from replacement and repair of machinery damaged in last year's violence to strategies for rice seed multiplication. Agricultural concerns topped the list of activities in the last month for the Catholic Relief Services/East Timor office as the staff assessed the needs of target communities in the country.

CRS' Ongoing Response

The destruction that occurred in East Timor was not just physical. Catholic Relief Services continues working to foster the growth of relationships as well as the growth of individuals. The Agency's East Timor Peace and Reconciliation Initiative (ETPRIDE) continues the efforts that it began last year.

Catholic Relief Services supports the East Timorese Justice and Peace Commissions in their efforts to reconcile broken communities and foster the development of an independent civil society among historically oppressed people. The members of these groups, some targeted by the militias during the violence, have now re-assembled, and are again taking up their work.

The Timorese need to take an active, informed role in the transformation processes occurring in the country. Bishop do Nascimento of Baucau asked Catholic Relief Services to, "support the local Justice and Peace Commission in the development of a civic education project." Catholic Relief Services met with Bishop Nascimento in February to discuss future plans for the country and is eager to help the people of East Timor through humanitarian aid, reintegration of refugees and community peace building activities.

Catholic Relief Services recently initiated a capacity building project for local organizations in the Diocese of Baucau. The purpose of this project is to strengthen the ability to serve local communities and serve the anchor for the continued development of civil society. A proposal for an extension of the program was recently submitted and, if approved, would allow the program to continue into 2002.

Prospects for Peace

Although there is still occasional fighting between armed groups and political factions, East Timor has been relatively peaceful during the last month. The country continues to make strides towards a lasting peace and political harmony as it braces for assembly elections this summer.

Two issues that East Timor must face are reconciliation and the plight of refugees who are still in Indonesia. Catholic Relief Services is continuing to play a significant role in working towards building a culture of peace and reconciliation throughout the country. Most recently, strategic planning sessions were held with Justice and Peace commissions in Dili and Baucau, along with community-based "Culture of Peace" workshops. Additionally, the Guatemalan Justice and Peace Commission visited the country to teach the East Timorese new approaches to reconciliation.

Background of the Situation:

East Timor is a new nation, now independent of Indonesia. From a Portuguese colony to an Indonesian province, East Timor has witnessed 200,000 people killed within the confines of its land over the last 25 years. Additionally, the militias that reacted in fury when the East Timorese population voted overwhelmingly for independence devastated the infrastructure. An estimated 750,000 of East Timor's 880,000 people were driven from their homes.

The United Nations is currently administering East Timor. This includes working with the East Timorese people in the reconstruction of the nation's infrastructure and facilitating its transition to independence. An East Timorese national cabinet has been formed and East Timorese citizens have been appointed to cabinet posts and key positions within the civil service.

"We must come together to continue to build this country," East Timor's charismatic independence leader Jose "Xanana" Gusmao said after he was re-elected head of a coalition of pro-independence groups - making him the likely choice for the presidency of East Timor, once the nation achieves full independence.

Agency History:

Catholic Relief Services began operating in Indonesia in 1957 through food and distribution programs. The Agency maintained an office in East Timor between 1975 and 1988. Over the years, resources were transferred to local organizations to support projects in the areas of emergency relief, health, sustainable agriculture, and enterprise development. Catholic Relief Services continues to work with these local organizations, assisting the citizens of this new nation.

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