In January 2000, Ainaro community members
told a joint ETAN/East Timorese nationwide assessment mission that they
wanted to form a sister relationship with friends overseas. Ainaro
had suffered near-total devastation during the Indonesian military’s 1999
scorched earth operation; more than 95 percent of buildings were destroyed.
Following the restoration of security, however, little assistance was given
to this remote mountain district. For these reasons, we decided to work
with Ainaro, and the Madison City Council voted to make Ainaro an official
sister city in February 2001.
This report details some of the major issues facing Ainaro sub-district, the organizations and community resources in the area, and thoughts on future solidarity work with the world’s newest country, Timor Lorosa’e.
Issues facing Ainaro
Health: Ainaro's health care system was decimated during 1999’s violence. All clinics in the district were destroyed and the town's only hospital was completely gutted. Many nurses and trained personnel were forced into Indonesian West Timor by the military. Most Indonesian health care workers (as well as teachers and other professionals) had left East Timor in early 1999, as the military and militia violence was increasing.
Delegation members with students at the Sao Luis Gonzaga Pre-Seminary school in Ainaro town
Clinic rehabilitation has been very slow over the
past three years. The public clinics in Ainaro town and Cassa have leaky
roofs, sporadic or no access to transportation, and a severe lack of medicines
and trained workers. The week prior to our arrival, the district government
was informed that Ainaro town’s hospital would not be rebuilt, a decision
many complained about to us. Ainaro town had been without a doctor for
the previous eight months when we arrived. The closest doctor is in Maubisse
(also the location of the future district hospital), at least two hours
away over rough roads.
Only half of the district’s population has access to clean water. Many people have a restricted diet, due to poverty and limited access to crop seeds. As a result, there are very high rates of infant mortality and child malnutrition. Respiratory infections, malaria, diarrhea, and acute febrile illness are among the most common health problems.
Transportation: The roads are treacherous, punishing to passengers and vehicles alike. Road rehabilitation has been promised for a long time, leaving many skeptical it will ever happen. The planned Japanese road project will only resurface the main route from Dili, the national capital, through Ainaro town to Suai, the capital of neighboring Cova Lima district, leaving village residents isolated. In district development meetings, road conditions were consistently identified as a major concern, because of their effect on access to health care, education and employment, as well as communication.
Access to vehicles is very limited; most people travel by Timor pony or in dilapidated public buses. The lack of area mechanics complicates transport for the few people with motorbikes or cars, and all vehicle parts must come from Dili or Suai.
Communication: There are only four phone lines in Ainaro town, all of which are reserved for government use. There has been no local media since the Ainaro radio tower was destroyed in 1999. People rely on word of mouth, a few kiosks with old papers, and a scratchy radio signal from Dili to keep informed.
people spoke of the need for applied learning programs in Ainaro,
especially in agriculture, mechanics, construction and forestry. There
are only two technical education programs in
Employment: Unemployment is estimated at more than 70 percent nationwide. Many young people leave Ainaro for Dili, in search of better opportunities. When most internationals left East Timor in May 2002, following the end of the United Nations transitional government and East Timor’s independence day, Ainaro’s economy – like that of communities nationwide – dipped. Most people practice subsistence agriculture, and earn money by selling extra produce, weavings or other small goods at local markets.
Crime: Domestic violence is a major problem in Ainaro, responsible for nearly half of all police responses. To address the problem, the Ainaro police will be among the first participants in national trainings on how to handle domestic violence incidents and carry out community education on the issue.
While the situation in Ainaro is otherwise calm, gangs of unemployed youth belonging to “karate clubs” engage in sporadic intimidation and vigilantism. There are also property crimes, due to the extreme poverty people suffer.
An estimated 5,000 people from Ainaro district
remain in squalid militia-controlled refugee camps in Indonesian West
Reconciliation will be a long and difficult process, although a reconciliation meeting in Cassa last year was praised by both victims and former militia members. Before refugees return home, any militia members in the group are reported to police and the community decides whether it will accept them. In most (but not all) cases, the militia are accepted. East Timorese realize the militia groups were creations of the Indonesian military, and focus on demanding the military leaders stand trial before an international tribunal.
Reintegration of militia leadership is more complex; oftentimes they hold long-standing, somewhat hereditary positions of authority within communities. In Cassa, the MAHIDI leadership has been banned from government positions, but still retains much influence.
Currently, the only operating court in
Infrastructure: About half of the houses in Ainaro town are still uninhabitable. Most schools are burnt shells lacking basic necessities. The few health clinics are in need of major repairs. Ainaro town has low-power electricity for only a few hours each evening. The water system needs basic maintenance and repairs, and does not serve the entire community. The former youth center has been rebuilt for use as a community center (Centro ComunidadeAinaro), with help from UNICEF. The central market area is only partially rehabilitated. A lack of skilled masons, carpenters, tools and building materials – as well as funding – are hampering rebuilding efforts.
Given the fertile soil and good climate, agriculture has been identified
as the key to Ainaro district’s future development. Ainaro
was once a center for specialist horticulture, with a wide variety of fruits,
vegetables, spices and herbs grown in the area. Ainaro
district is also a center for the production of
Perhaps the most exciting community effort we saw was Centro ComunidadeAinaro, a joint effort by the Catholic group FOSCA, a youth group (JuventudiRamelauAinaro), and the women’s group OrganizacãoMulher de Timor (OMT). These organizations were poised to open the renovated community center in August 2002, to offer organized sports activities for local youth, basic computer education, language classes, and carpentry workshops. OMT plans to open a community center restaurant, to provide income for the center and for their own work. (While in some ways farsighted – and encouraged by UNICEF – depending upon the restaurant for income does not take into consideration the decline in international clientele and subsequent economic slump, or the need for women’s groups to diversify their income-generating projects beyond sewing and cooking, as noted in the Ainaro district development plan.)
The local branch of the Association of Veterans of the Resistance (AVR) has applied to the national government for office space in Ainaro town. Their future planned projects include providing orphan children with scholarships and other support, and assisting local farmers.
Women's organizations in Ainaro include OMT and Organizacão Popular Mulher de Timor (OPMT, which spawned the similarly-named OMT after being banned during the Indonesian occupation). These two groups work separately and together to carry out adult literacy, sewing and weaving projects. A women’s cooperative independent of these two organizations was organized in Ainaro by more than 20 women, to produce traditional weavings, or tais, and sell the weavings in local markets.
The former chefe of Ainaro town told us that each village has separate women's and men's organizations focused on agricultural issues. While we did not meet with these groups, others affirmed their existence and explained how they formed a network through which important agricultural information and aid is routinely transmitted.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was actively addressing agricultural needs in Ainaro district, mostly by organizing local farmers’ cooperatives and assisting them in building up collective resources to purchase fuel oil for tractors, cement, farm tools, and other joint needs. CRS also helped rehabilitate area irrigation canals; 13 of 47 of canals had been repaired. The CRS programs were very highly thought of in Ainaro; unfortunately, after returning to Dili, we were told these programs would soon be discontinued.
In considering which projects our sister city relationship should undertake, we decided
to abide by the following guidelines:
1)We will support existing community efforts in Ainaro, rather than try to start new projects. This will maximize our effectiveness, and ensure that our work respects the wishes, priorities and norms of the community.
2)We will start with a small focus, both geographically and project-wise. We will work in Ainaro sub-district, comprised of Ainaro town and six surrounding villages, on one or two projects. This will allow us to focus limited resources, and allow both Ainaro and Madison to see real results from our work.
will maximize our outreach efforts in
The following areas for potential sister city projects were consistently identified as the highest priority areas by government, Church and community representatives.In addition, they are areas in which we could support existing community structures and efforts, and benefit from strong local partners.
– Scholarships for Ainaro students to attend
local primary and secondary schools, Dili
and Baucau technical schools, the University
of East Timor, and U.S. universities. Scholarships to schools in
b.Vocational/Technical Training – Local classes in carpentry, motorcycle and auto mechanics, masonry and other skills. We were able to provide tools and funding for Centro Comunidade Ainaro to begin woodworking classes, but other tools, resources and training of instructors are needed for Ainaro’s physical and economic reconstruction.
Madison-led practical woodworking class: students
build desks and chairs for their school
c. Adult Literacy – Training of literacy trainers, transportation and basic resources such as books, blackboards and paper. In Ainaro, women’s organizations are carrying out some adult education classes, but more resources are needed to expand and strengthen these efforts.
d.School Building Rehabilitation – In-kind donations of school supplies, desks, chairs and the physical rehabilitation of schools without roofs, doors or windows. During our delegation, we were able to provide students at one elementary school with notebooks, pens and rulers, and worked with the students of one high school to build enough desks and chairs
and Hand Tools
– In-kind donations of appropriate seeds and hand tools. Most Ainaro
residents engage in agriculture, and the soil and climate make agricultural
production a key to future economic development in the area. However, access
to quality seeds and tools is limited in
f.Training and Information – Training workshops, pilot projects and informational pamphlets stressing sustainable agriculture practices. Farmers use traditional agricultural methods, which are often very labor intensive and not environmentally friendly. For example, organic waste is routinely burned instead of composted.
3)Small-scale income-generating projects
g.Clothesmaking – Sewing machines, material and thread, and training in good business practices. Ainaro women’s organizations have begun clothesmaking projects in which members of the organization purchase clothes from other members through bartering. We were able to provide some funds for women in Cassa village to purchase a sewing machine. Support to expand these efforts would provide women with a regular source of income – especially important for widows – and encourage community self-sufficiency.
– Export of traditional weavings (tais)
and development of
During our delegation to Ainaro, we were fortunate to meet with many individuals who were very generous with their time and information. With the help of these community members, we were able to identify several potential future projects for our sister city relationship. Although we at times felt overwhelmed – there are so many needs and we are a small organization – we were encouraged by the energy and vision of our partners in Ainaro.
Although information gathering was the focus of the delegation, we feel other important goals were also accomplished. These included providing hundreds of dollars in medicines free to local clinics; giving Centro ComunidadeAinaro thousands of dollars’ worth of tools, for woodworking classes; providing small grants to women’s income-generating and adult literacy projects, local scholarships for orphans, and struggling elementary schools; working with area schoolchildren to construct tables and chairs for their school; and, most importantly, making friends.
We certainly have our work cut out for us. But we look forward to joining with others in Madison and Ainaro, and working together for positive change in both our communities.