Subject: Seattle sister-school class aids East Timor students

Monday, October 13, 2003

Nova sister-school class aids East Timor students

By Regine Labossiere Seattle Times staff reporter

A small group of students gathers each week in a classroom at Seattle's Nova alternative high school to brainstorm ways they can help another school thousands of miles away.

Their focus is Kay Rala, a high school with 126 students and six teachers in Manatuto, East Timor, the tiny country in Southeast Asia nearly destroyed by the Indonesian military after it voted for independence in 1999.

The East Timor Sister School class is a combination history lesson and group project.

On Tuesdays, instructor Joe Szwaja lectures on the country's politics and culture. On Thursdays, junior Ashley Barnard takes over, leading a discussion on Tuesday's lesson, plotting fund-raising ideas or sharing e-mail messages from Kay Rala students. On a recent day, the students huddled on the floor to draw signs for a display case of woven goods and other gifts sent from East Timor.

Barnard, 17, came up with the idea for the class and the sister-school relationship through her involvement with the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), a Washington, D.C.-based human-rights organization with a local office in Seattle. Founded in 1991, the nonprofit group works to help East Timor rebuild and remain independent.

Barnard was drawn to ETAN in a world-history class taught by Szwaja, who encouraged her interest and urged her to get other students involved.

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Through a chain of contacts, she began corresponding with Kay Rala school administrators and students last year, and then organized meetings at Nova to raise money for the East Timor school.

Now the Kay Rala students send the Nova students fair-trade-certified coffee beans. The beans are ground and packaged at the Pacifica Coffee company in Corvallis, Ore., then sold by Nova students and others involved in the project for $10 a pound.

So far, the coffee sales and other fund-raisers, such as raffles, have helped Nova to send $4,000 to Kay Rala.

"A lot of people drink coffee in Seattle. If you drink it anyway, you might as well get it from a good place," Szwaja said.

"This is direct. We don't give money to a charity," said freshman Maggie Carleton, who is also taking candid photographs of Nova students to send as a present to Kay Rala. Carleton says it's satisfying to see what Nova's direct connection with Kay Rala has accomplished.

The money has helped rebuild Kay Rala, which was burned to the ground by Indonesian soldiers in the late 1990s.

According to ETAN, during Indonesian occupation, about one-third of the population, or more than 200,000 people, was killed. When the East Timorese were allowed to vote in August 1999 either to be an autonomous province within Indonesia or to become independent, the Indonesian police and paramilitary militia threatened to kill anyone who voted. About 1,500 were killed. According to the World Bank, more than 75 percent of the population was displaced after the vote and about 70 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed.

The money also buys school supplies as well as helps pay tuition for those who otherwise couldn't afford to attend school.

"There's a small fee for going to the school, something like $4," Barnard said. "It seems small to us, but for them it can be pretty drastic."

In the past several years, Barnard's world has opened up, she said, helping her to see people who are less fortunate. But instead of accepting dreary situations, she wants to change them, as she hopes she is doing with Kay Rala.

Through the class's fund-raising endeavors, Barnard hopes to visit Kay Rala in a few years with several other students.

"I think they're really happy that we're helping them out," Barnard said. "It would be nice to see them, make a face-to-face connection."

East Timor project

For more information on Nova's East Timor Sister School project, or to help, call Joe Szwaja at 206-523-3278 or see


I’ve long admired ETAN’s work. For well over a decade, ETAN has conducted some of the most effective grassroots campaigns I know. With limited resources, they helped free a nation and fundamentally changed policy toward one of the U.S.’s closest and most repressive allies, Indonesia.

Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now!”

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