TIMOR LESTE: by Fr Marcos de Oliveira SDBNews Weekly
'Thanks for helping East Timor'
, December 17, 2005
East Timorese priest, Fr Marcos de Oliveira (pictured below) received a cheque for $10,314, donated by News Weekly readers this year, to help famine relief in East Timor (Timor Leste). He has written the accompanying article for News Weekly.This is my first visit to Australia. Through Br Michael Lynch and the Salesian Missions Office, it has been arranged for me to thank a number of those who have been supporting Salesian work in our new country, Timor Leste.
Timor Leste is the world's newest country. It is also the poorest in Asia.
A good proportion of our people are desperately poor. They survive on meagre rations and food without much substance.
Let me tell you a little about my work.
I am parish priest of Laga - a large parish about 150 km east of Dili, bordered on the north by the coast, and on the south by mountains.
There are about 50,000 in the parish. We have more than 60 Mass centres (we call them chapels), 43 primary schools, 3 junior high schools and three orphanages.
A good number of the children walk for an hour or more to get to school - and then an hour or more home.
The schools receive little help from the Government. All the school buildings need a lot of maintenance.
They are mostly small schools based in the village. If they were not there, the children would have no schooling because it would be too difficult to go to school in another village.
And if the youngsters don't start school at the age of six or seven, they will never go to school because they won't commence at age 12 or 13.
Our region has had bad droughts over the past three years. Food has been in short supply. We noticed a good number of the youngsters were coming to school hungry - not having had breakfast.
With help from Australia, we have been able to start a school luncheon program in some schools. We now have it operating in eight schools catering for a total of 1,500 children per day.
However there are 6,000 children in our schools and I would really like to expand this program to take in some of the remaining 4,500.
You may be interested to know that the luncheon program, as well as giving the children their best meal for the day, has had two other good effects.
First, when the program started, we arranged for a group of mothers in each of the villages to cook the food - either rice or a thick corn-based soup, somewhat like porridge. Some of these women began to ask for payment. We didn't have any funds to give them.
As time went on, these mothers, seeing how successful it was, started to bring a few vegetables from home to add to the soup.
I soon discovered that the luncheon program was a means for the women to work together for the benefit of their children.
This was a great step forward because Timorese are not that great at working together.
Second, we purchase much of the food [soy beans, mung beans] for the luncheon program from local farmers. This provides them with a source of welcome income.
Overall, there is so much to be done to rebuild the country. Two
of the big problems facing the nation are malnutrition and ill health.
A large proportion of the population are simply not getting enough to eat and in the correct food balance, while malaria and tuberculosis are serious concerns. People generally don't have much resistance to various infections and viruses.Helping people
We are consciously trying to help the people to believe in themselves and to be self-reliant. However, this is not easy. For the next few years, we would welcome help and support from outside.
Thank you very much for the help you have given us since we became independent. You have helped us survive through some awesomely difficult times.
Peter Westmore (left) and Michael Gilchrist hand a cheque from News Weekly readers to Fr Marcos de Oliveira and Br Michael Lynch of the Salesian Missions for their work in East Timor (Timor Leste).
- Fr Marcos de Oliveira SDB.