EAST TIMOR: by Michael Lynch, SDBNews Weekly
East Timor - the quiet revolution
, April 3, 2010
There are many quiet revolutions taking place in East Timor.
One that I recently witnessed was the graduation in basic building skills of 106 previously unemployed young men. Most of these were school dropouts who used to spend their days sitting by the roadside and throwing stones at passing cars.
For these graduates, it was clear that this was the first time their achievements were publicly acknowledged. What's more, about half of them have already secured paid jobs, a significant achievement in a country where the level of unemployment is still very high.
East Timor remains the poorest country in South East Asia where a good percentage of the population still has to subsist on minimal food.
I was in Timor in February this year. It was, I think, my 17th visit in 10 years, and 12 months since my previous visit.
What were my impressions?
The nation, which is not even eight years old, seems much more stable. People are moving around with a greater sense of purpose and safety.
The Government appears to be doing what it was elected to do - it is moving in the right direction. Like all governments, it is criticised for not doing more and not doing it quickly enough!
There are young people everywhere. You see them in groups, walking to and from school, playing sport, and so on. While they have always been fairly keen on schooling, I noticed on this occasion, a much greater enthusiasm for learning and doing well in their studies.
As I already mentioned above, a particularly significant experience for me was the graduation ceremony at Comoro on February 11. When we hear "graduation ceremony", we usually associate it with high flyers. Well, this graduation ceremony was for school dropouts, who had now been given a "second chance". They had completed a basic skills course in building construction.
Who were these men? Most had not completed primary and secondary education. Perhaps they did not have the opportunity to go to school, or there were no schools in their district. Some had learning difficulties while others, because of the turmoil in the country, had never been to school.
Before undertaking the courses a good number of them were embittered and angry. Many used to spend their days just sitting by the roadside.
The basic building construction courses were in masonry, carpentry, electrical, metal fabrication (including welding) and plumbing. At the graduation they were presented with a certificate and personal box of tools.
Three of the graduates came from Gariwai village (near Baucau). The village chief, Maria Lidia Belo, was lavish in her praise of them, adding that she had two of the boys working on extensions to her house. She added that the parents from other villages were very happy that the lads, who previously were at a loose end, were now gainfully occupied.
The course was taught at the two Salesian ("Don Bosco") technical schools in Comoro (Dili) and Fatumaca (near Baucau). It was initiated and largely financed by the South Australian Government's Austraining International and AusAID, in partnership with Salesians in Timor, the Australian Salesian Mission Overseas Aid Fund and Timor's SEFOPE - the government agency responsible for vocational training and employment. The teachers were trained in South Australian TAFE colleges at Elizabeth, Regency Park, Gilles Plains, Marleston and Panorama.
I was privileged to participate in the graduation ceremony together with the Australian Ambassador to Timor (Mr Peter Heyward), Secretary of State for the Timorese Government's Department of Vocational Training and Employment (Mr Bendito Freitas), Salesian Vice Provincial (Fr John Paul Guterres), and South Australian Government representatives (Mr Dennis Mutton and Mr Patrick Markwick-Smith).
Mr Freitas said: "The basic building skills project has given these young Timorese training and new hope for a better future. From their days at Don Bosco they now have a better appreciation of the dignity of work and the importance of personal self-discipline for success in any undertaking."
The high level of co-operation between the Australians, the Timorese and the Salesians was highlighted by speakers at the graduation.
The South Australian Government, Austraining International and the SA TAFE colleges are to be commended for initiating and consolidating the partnership with the Salesians' Don Bosco technical schools.
I sensed that this basic skills project was indeed part of Timor's quiet revolution when I saw the graduates walking away clutching both the certificate and the heavy tool boxes.Michael Lynch, a Salesian Brother, is director of Salesian Missions in Australia. He was headmaster of the former Salesian College, Brooklyn Park, South Australia, during 1974-81 and 1994-96.