The long and winding road to peace and security

'Peace is not just the absence of war; like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.'  - Pope John Paul II

Timor-Leste is a country with a variety of names. The Indonesian name for East Timor was Timor Timur meaning east. During the Portuguese colonisation it was known as Timor-Leste, the word Leste meaning east in Portuguese. Timor Lorosa’e which literarily translates into ‘rising sun’ is the Tetum name.

Several languages are spoken in Timor-Leste. Tetum is the most widely used language and the country’s first national and official language. Portuguese is the other official language, while English and Indonesian (Bahasa) are considered as the working languages.

The use of various languages creates difficulties. Not many of the East Timorese have a sound knowledge in Portuguese. Bahasa is known only by people under the age of 30 and it can be associated with terrible feelings as it is seen as the language belonging to the Indonesians. Tetum on the other hand, is not a written language; it is primarily a spoken one (however written format is gradually developing due to the efforts of Mary MacKillop East Timor - the Josephite Sisters). There are not many who are fluent in English in Timor–Leste but the desire is there to learn. As a result, difficulties are experienced in translating and communicating from one language to another written or verbal.

Timor-Leste is a nation with a long history of turmoil and many human rights abuses. The Portuguese colonised the country from 1556 to 1975. With the departure of the Portuguese, the Indonesian armed forces invaded on December 7, 1975 and ended in 1999. Throughout the invasion, much of the culture of East Timor was destroyed along with the people and nature.

Timor-Leste became the first new country of the 21st Century on May 20, 2002. It is therefore a relatively young country and is still seeking to find the peace and security it has sought for so many years.

Since gaining independence, the East Timorese have continued to show tremendous strength, courage and determination to persist in rebuilding their country and accomplish long-lasting peace, autonomy and an enhanced quality of life. In order to sustain such progress, the people of Timor-Leste need to continue embracing a culture of peace and recognise and come to terms with the events that occurred both in the past and present.

The consequences of poverty, illiteracy, separation of families, health, and various forms of violence need to be closely observed and addressed accordingly. Peace can only be built if the people feel safe and secure.

Every person in Timor-Leste has a role to play in building peace and empowering themselves, not only as individuals, but also as a nation. It is the collective responsibility of everyone to encourage and support all areas of the society to help mend broken ties and start the process of re-establishing trust, dignity and unity.

The Non Government Organisations (NGOs) working in Timor-Leste also have responsibilities to ensure aid is accessible. Caritas Australia is one of the NGOs actively involved with various projects and is committed to helping build peace in Timor-Leste.

Luisa, an East Timorese woman who works with a local organisation as a counsellor, approached Caritas Australia to assist in building a safe house for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. She herself lived through the violence of occupation; generally it is women and children that suffer the most in times of war and conflict. A good way of recognising the plight of women is to be in solidarity with them especially during International Women’s day which is held on March 8.

As well as completion of the safe house, Caritas Australia assisted in developing and printing pamphlets about the facility in the local language which have been distributed to organisations, police stations, health clinics and hospitals throughout Timor-Leste as a way of promoting the service.

The building of peace in Timor-Leste will be a long-term process. It is like building a house. If it is built quickly and carelessly, then the foundation will not be solid and the structure will not be sturdy. Time, effort and further endurance are required to rebuild the nation step by step to ensure all will benefit from the results. As stated by Pope John Paul II, peace needs to be constructed patiently and with much faith. It is vital that appropriate conditions are created in order for peace to flourish.

In the year 2000, world leaders met and agreed we should all work together to achieve eight global objectives, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Timor-Leste formally signed onto the MDGs when it became independent in 2002. By working towards achieving these goals we are helping to build peace.

In April 2006, further violence broke out in Timor-Leste. You can read further at: Once more people experienced losing loved ones and being displaced.

The people of Timor-Leste dream of peace. In order to obtain it many political, economic, social and cultural issues need to be resolved. The road to peace is long and winding but if everyone works together in nurturing the new nation then perhaps the people can be at peace and finally achieve peace.


This material is from "OzSpirit: Building peace in Timor-Leste". Copyright © 2006, Caritas and Church Resources.