Ainaro Lia Foun

Spring 2006

Sistering with Ainaro: How It Started and How It's Going

Reading, Writing and Rebuilding: The Three Rs of Education in Ainaro

The Struggle for Food Sovereignty, Fair Trade, and Rural Justice in East Timor

What's Going on in Ainaro?

Please Help Us Help Them


Sistering with Ainaro: How It Started and How It's Going

by Diane Farsetta

Madison's summer 2005 delegation to Ainaro was the fourth time representatives from our organization had visited our sister city in East Timor.

Repeatedly, as we met with various people and community groups, they shared their memories of past Madison delegations and asked how the Madisonians they had met previously were doing. As we walked into the office of Ainaro's District Administrator, Joao Corte Real (his position is analogous to the governor of a U.S. state), he turned to me and asked, "We've met before, haven't we?" We had, during my last visit, in 2002.

In other words, the people-to-people ties that form the basis of any sister-city relationship are strong and growing between the Ainaro and Madison communities.

Delegation members John Peck and Diane Farsetta meet with Carlotta Olinda Xavier (L) of the Popular Organization of East Timorese Women (OPMT)

It was early 2000 when the Madison chapter of the East Timor Action Network first started working to establish a sister-city relationship. East Timor was still literally smoldering, from the vicious scorched-earth campaign carried out by the departing Indonesian military following the August 1999 referendum for independence. We were familiar with the powerful work of Madison's sister-city organizations and decided that one way we wanted to continue our solidarity was in direct partnership with an East Timorese community.

The question then became: Which one? In this, we were guided by a joint East Timorese / international delegation that traveled around the country in late 1999, asking various communities what their needs and hopes for the future were. As we poured over the report produced from this consultation, we realized that people in Ainaro had specifically asked for a sister-city relationship.

As we learned more about Ainaro, our conviction that we had found our sister community deepened. Ainaro's suffering in 1999 had been especially terrible, due in large part to the Indonesian-armed MAHIDI militia, which was headquartered in Ainaro's Cassa village. While the military and militias destroyed an estimated 70 percent of all infrastructure nationwide, in Ainaro some 95 percent of the infrastructure was wiped out.

On the positive side, people who had been to Ainaro told us of a beautiful area in the mountains that included Ramelau, East Timor's highest peak. As is true in Wisconsin, agriculture is very important to Ainaro residents. Ainaro is also one of the districts where East Timor's famous, delicious, organic Arabica coffee is grown. (If you would like to try some, Just Coffee, Madison's fair trade coffee roasters, sell East Timorese coffee. Contact Just Coffee's website or call 608-204-9011.)

Our first direct contact with Ainaro came in late 2000, when Jen Laakso, an early member of the Madison-Ainaro Sister-City Alliance, visited. She met with Fernando Xavier, then Ainaro's District Administrator, who was very supportive. We recounted this history during the 2005 delegation, as we met with Fernando's wife, Carlotta Olinda Xavier, to discuss her important work with the Ainaro chapter of the Popular Organization of East Timorese Women.

Delegations in 2002 and 2004 helped our group become familiar with Ainaro's many vital grassroots organizations, where citizens of Asia's poorest country somehow add volunteering to help rebuild their shattered community to their demanding daily routines. We also gained a small understanding of their very different reality, including high child mortality, bustling open-air markets, long hours spent working in the fields, and warm hospitality towards visitors.

In the future, we hope to bring members of the Ainaro community to Madison, so that they can interact with local organizations here and better understand our daily reality. We are also continuing our support of women's organizations, community radio, sustainable agriculture and children's education in Ainaro. If you're interested in getting involved, please contact us!

Reading, Writing and Rebuilding:
The Three Rs of Education in Ainaro

by Eric S. Piotrowski

This article is adapted from Two Weeks in Timor, a political travelogue available online at Justified Textworks.

As a teacher, I am fascinated by the universality of the classroom, as well as the variances between schools. Thus, when I made my first-ever trip to East Timor with the delegation this summer, I was especially keen to learn firsthand how well the teachers and administrators were dealing with the most essential task of educating the young. In Ainaro, we spoke to Alexandre de Araujo, the District Superintendent of Education for Ainaro -- who gave us some powerful food for thought.

Our trip took place in the late summer, when school in Ainaro had just finished for the term. Thus, I was unable to visit a class in session; and as I listened to Mr. Araujo describe the status of the district, I had severe trouble imagining myself in such a situation. The district has two secondary schools (what we call high school in the US), and only ten permanent secondary teachers on staff (all others are volunteers). Most classes in the primary and secondary grades have 40-50 students for each teacher. Many schools have no desks and little chalk, equipment, or books. Even the district office lacks a computer. Because the government must charge school fees, many families cannot afford (or choose not to prioritize) school for their children. (Girls are excluded disproportionately from education.) In the rural areas of Ainaro District, less than 25% of the kids go to school.

Students in Ainaro wait for the results of their final exams.

As an added confusion, the national government has mandated that Portuguese, the official language of East Timor, must be used for instruction in primary schools. Since most Timorese speak only Tetun (or another indigenous language), this has been a profoundly frustrating experience for everyone involved. In the coming school year, teachers in pre-secondary schools are being required to teach in Portuguese, even though few (if any) speak it.

Only a small portion of the population speaks Portuguese, most of them older folks who were around in the time of Portugal's colonial reign. Many younger men and women we spoke to advocate the use of Tetum in the schools; or even English, as it's very valuable as a marketable skill for workers to have.

Hearing about these regulations and conditions, I began to think about my own situation as a teacher in the US. I encourage any teacher who may read these words to imagine as I did: You probably think of 30 students as a large class. Now imagine you have 45, and no desks for anyone (maybe a small table for yourself). You have no books (nearly impossible for me to conceive, as an English teacher), and if the students have paper, it's scarce. The school has no computers or copy machines. And of course, remember that many teachers in Ainaro don't get paid.

I was relieved to hear that the administrators in Ainaro had been classroom teachers for many years. When I told our friend Valentin that teachers in the US frequently work under administrators who have never been in the classroom, he looked puzzled. "How do they know how to work with people in the classes?" he asked. I shrugged. "Sometimes they don't," I said.

Still, the educators in Ainaro -- like most people we met around the country -- are resourceful and profoundly dedicated. The district education office is a tiny, cramped building packed with people working. The school we visited was pushing itself to get the scores tabulated from the final exams. And students succeed in learning despite conditions that do their best to inhibit education. (Some of my students refuse even to walk across the room to get the free paper provided for them.)

As part of our meager efforts to lend what help we can, the Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance donated several hundred dollars to the district. This money is being used to provide scholarships (at least 60% for girls, we urged) to families who would otherwise be unable to send their kids to school.

In the future, we hope to bring educators from Ainaro to the US to exchange perspectives and discuss teaching priorities. We would also like to bring teachers with us on future delegations to East Timor. If you or someone you know is involved with education, please consider joining us on an upcoming trip. For more information, call Eric at (608) 244-4563 or email

The Struggle for Food Sovereignty, Fair Trade, and Rural Justice in East Timor

by John E. Peck, Family Farm Defenders

Like most nations in the global south, East Timor's economy revolves around agriculture. Over 85% of the population is still engaged in farming. Ironically enough, centuries of neglect -- first by Portuguese colonizers and later Indonesian occupiers -- have left a silver lining for East Timor's peasant majority. Largely bypassed by the "Green Revolution" and its chemical-intensive, market-driven mono-cultures, East Timor now finds itself a de facto "organic" country at the dawn of the 21st century. At the same time, East Timor has not been able to quite yet escape the trap of engineered dependence upon foreign food and corporate control over its lucrative cashcrop.

Traditionally, Timorese relied upon indigenous staples such as taro, sago, millet, mung beans, pigeon peas, sorghum, yams, and upland rice for their survival. When the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, they introduced other crops from the Americas such as squash, cassava, maize, peanuts, potatoes, and tomatoes. It was not until the 1960s, though, that Timor began its insatiable craving for paddy rice. This crop was promoted heavily after Indonesia's 1975 invasion, both to farmers as a "modern" hybrid and to consumers as an "elite" staple. Timor's markets today are literally bursting at the seams with imported bags of paddy rice from Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, often smuggled in to avoid a 12% duty.

A poor country like East Timor can ill afford to buy two thirds of its domestic rice consumption from abroad, especially as it drives local rice farmers into bankruptcy. Worse yet, just because rice is available in the market place does not mean that it is accessible to the average person. It is estimated that poorer households in East Timor now spend up to 57% of their total income on rice. When an El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-induced drought struck Ainaro District last year, thousands of people went hungry and the Catholic Church had to distribute imported rice in villages that normally fed themselves.

Coffee was another 19th century Portuguese transplant to East Timor, and the island retains its historic cachet for gourmet coffee. Coffee also remains the primary source of cash income for over 44,000 households in East Timor. It is not uncommon to see bags of coffee lining the roadside awaiting pickup or being transported down hillsides on the backs of sturdy Timorese ponies. Many coffee stands, though, were neglected during the 20+ year old armed struggle, and East Timor now faces the daunting task of rejuvenating "ancient" 40-50 year old coffee plants. Adding insult to injury, in 1999 a dreadful rust disease appeared which has now attacked two thirds of the nation's shade trees that are critical to sustainable coffee production.

Thanks to $17 million in USAID support between 1994 and 2002, Cooperative Cafe Timor (CCT) has emerged as one of the major processors and coffee brokers in East Timor, controlling up to 30% of the country's crop. Much of this coffee is sold as fair trade, though there is great debate about whether the price farmers receive is truly "fair," given that it has not increased in over a decade. Then there is the dubious reputation of the primary beneficiary of this trend -- Starbucks. The global coffee giant was so excited about East Timor's coffee, it dispatched a film crew this summer and last year launched its first ever single origin coffee, "Timor Lorosa'e," for sale in Australia and New Zealand. US consumers can buy a blended Arabian Mocha Timor coffee for $12.95 per pound on Starbucks' website, though they're not told that less than 10% of the price actually reaches the pockets of East Timor's coffee farmers.

Fortunately, some are working to change this situation. East Timor's first ever permaculture handbook is ready for release. promotes the value of indigenous agriculture and food sovereignty -- not just in terms of mitigating trade imbalances, but also for improving child/maternal nutrition, conserving soil, protecting biodiversity, and boosting household food security. Smaller socially responsible coffee roasters, such as Madison, WI-based Just Coffee, are planning to raise their fair trade coffee price above the stagnant minimum now being dictated by Starbucks, in order to bring more benefits directly to farmers. Grassroots groups such as La'o Hamutuk have also sponsored farmer to farmer delegations, bringing together local rural activists with their counterparts from the Philippines and Brazil. The seeds of solidarity have already been planted for a fresh agricultural future in East Timor.

What's Going on in Ainaro?

by Diane Farsetta

Each of our Madison-Ainaro Sister-City Alliance delegations has brought funds raised in Madison to community organizations in Ainaro, who do important work with few resources. (Because we are an all-volunteer organization and delegation members cover their own travel expenses, nearly every dollar we raise goes to East Timor.) As the big international organizations and foreign aid funds continue to leave East Timor for newer global hot spots, the importance of the modest yet sustained support we are able to offer has grown.

When allotting grants to Ainaro organizations, our group is guided a few simple tenets: Ainaro residents know their community, its needs and potential far better than we or any other group ever could. Funds will be most effective if they support ongoing efforts that have arisen organically from the community itself. If an organization or project is effective, it is not difficult to hear praise for it from independent, impartial sources.

Our 2005 delegation awarded grants to the following groups:

Please Help Us Help Them

The generosity of people like you makes the work of the Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance possible: delivering life-saving medicines; providing scholarships to rural girls and boys; supporting women's groups; and helping Ainaro's radio station and community center through tough times.

Please make a check out to "ETAN" and mail it to:

Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance
c/o Eric S. Piotrowski
1217 Spaight Street
Madison, WI 53703

Thank you!