IEUA support helps Timor-Leste grow

APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad recently hosted an IEUA group in Timor-Leste. The IEU has had a long association with Timor-Leste.

APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad’s Dili Coordinator Elisabeth Araujo capably arranged the tour and as someone born in Dili she was a valuable source of information. Simon Unwin and Shane Reside from APHEDA also accompanied the group.

The IEUA group had the opportunity to see some of APHEDA’s projects first hand and met local union leaders.

APHEDA assists the work of the Grupo Feto Foinsaie Timore Lorosae (GFFTL). We met the teacher Benita who explained that GFFTL is an adult literacy program taught in eight communities to adults who are predominately in their 30s.

The class we visited was a horticulture group of 20 and meets weekly for two hours. It takes one year to become fluent in reading and writing. Other benefits from the literacy class include a reduction in domestic violence, gender equality and improved literacy in children in the family.

Rebuilding schools

When the Timorese people chose independence from Indonesia in September 1999, the pro-Indonesian military responded brutally. Only 5% of education institutions were left standing and most of the teachers fled. The country is still in a rebuilding period and an almost insurmountable amount needs to be done in education at every level.

The group visited the University of Timor-Leste to meet a panel working on literacy and implementing a reformed curriculum for basic education (the first nine years of schooling). Thirteen syllabuses have been completed and reflect national pride and linking schools with communities. New curriculum subject areas include art and culture, dance art expression, art of theatre, craft, visual arts, Timorese music and dance, making toys and local games, permaculture garden and traditional cuisine.

The philosophy through the new curriculum is not only to learn to read and write but to value yourself, your country and the environment. The challenge was eloquently expressed by one of the panel. “Timor-Leste has an oral tradition but is moving into a touch screen era. How can we bridge this gap”?

To implement the new curriculum three books per school on permaculture have been printed with funding from New Zealand. We were asked for assistance for more books to provide one for each child.

Teachers are trained in subjects in the new curriculum at the end of each semester in the holidays and take what they learn back to the other teachers. As most teachers have only basic training lesson plans are included in the new curriculum.

Supporting farmers

Tetum will be used in schools during basic education and not only Portuguese. The group travelled to the Ermera district to visit the Ermera School for Adult Farmers opened by the Farmers’ Union. There are 15 students attending from 15 geographic zones.

There were many land disputes post Indonesian occupation. Farmers joined together to advocate land reform. In 2006 the decision was made to establish the union and it took four years of consultation to create the structure of the union. Part of its role is to settle land disputes. The union participates at a national level to demand government investment in agriculture and ensure participation in food markets on an equal footing with large purchasing companies.

Known as popular education, the school for farmers teaches valuable ways to utilise their land, economics, how to organise and mobilise their community, understanding cooperatives, sustainable agriculture, using organic fertiliser, land law and advocacy.

We conquered some rough roads into the mountains to meet members of a coffee cooperative which is active in the Farmers’ Union. This cooperative is a completed project that was assisted by APHEDA to become a successful cooperative. The coffee cooperative benefits all members of the village as they help each other with medical assistance or housing.

More is needed urgently

Members who contribute to APHEDA can be assured that the financial support you give APHEDA is spent judiciously in Timor-Leste. Small amounts of money go a long way to support sustainable and essential partnerships underpinned by Australian union values. However more is needed urgently. With the diminishing value of the Aussie dollar and the dwindling Timorese oil and gas resources, APHEDA and the Timorese unions are facing an uphill battle to finance their projects.

Without member support these valuable projects will cease to exist.

IEU members can individually assist the Timorese to build for their families and their country by donating directly through APHEDA –

See page 18 for a give away of the book Livelihoods and Liberation Struggles, 30 Years of Australian Worker Solidarity, by Dani Cooper, which outlines the story of Union Aid Abroad’s work.

Ann-Maree McEwan