Ainaro Lia Foun
From Ainaro to Madison: MASA's 2008 Delegation
by Eric S. Piotrowski
Since we began in 2000, the Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance (MASA) has organized delegations from the U.S. to East Timor, in order to create community, learn about our sister city, and transport supplies and money in the form of small solidarity grants. Several years ago, we began planning and working towards a sister-city delegation in the other direction: from Ainaro to Madison. In the summer of 2008, it finally happened.
Our guests were Father Evaristo Fernandes da Costa Soares and Hermenegildo ("Agio") Magno Gomes, two respected members of the Ainaro community. In addition to his work as a Catholic priest, Father Soares has a strong commitment to youth empowerment and education. He works with the local high school and is helping to organize a new training center for Ainaro primary school students. Agio Gomes is a human rights and sustainable agriculture activist. He's a trainer with PERMATIL, a Timorese organization devoted to sustainable agriculture. Agio also works with the Gardeners of Eden seed project, an agricultural and community empowerment project supported by several Madison groups, including Just Coffee, Family Farm Defenders, ETAN/Madison and MASA.
After some difficulties with visas and travel arrangements, Father Evaristo and Agio arrived in Madison on June 7 and took a whirlwind tour of downtown Madison. Their guides were Colleen Coy and Hector Hill, friends of MASA who live in East Timor for most of the year. While in Madison, Colleen and Hector arranged for our guests to stay at the Rochdale International Co-op, whose members generously donated room and board. We are grateful to Colleen, Hector, and the co-op for their support and solidarity.
We wanted the delegation to provide a wide range of experiences in the Madison area, to bring knowledge to our community and share with our guests a panorama of life in Wisconsin. After visiting the Dane County Farmers' Market, our Timorese friends gave interviews on WORT 89.9 fm and made presentations to Just Coffee and the Socialist Potluck. Although they just missed Brat Fest, Father Evaristo and Agio did sample a variety of Madison's foods, including brats, locally crafted cheese and microbrew beer.
Two trips outside of Madison were arranged during the delegation. The first was a tour of local small farms, organized by John Peck of Family Farm Defenders. FFD works to support local agriculture and has been supportive of MASA for years. (John joined us on our 2005 delegation to Ainaro.) The farm tour was an important way to demonstrate the links between our communities. A longer trip was later made to the Menominee Nation; see the article below.
In addition to the social, agricultural, and educational elements of the delegation, there were political activities. Agio and Father Evaristo met with staffers at the offices of Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Tammy Baldwin, to whom they described their experiences and work; conditions in Ainaro; economics in East Timor; and the role of USAID. Senator Feingold and Rep. Balwin are long-time supporters of self-determination and democracy in East Timor, and we were delighted that our guests were able to share their perspectives with the offices.
Toward the end of their time here, Father Evaristo was invited to say mass at St. Dennis Catholic Church in Madison. Although he was nervous (it was the first time he'd said mass in English), Father Evaristo did a great job and was greeted warmly by the congregation. He was also interviewed by the Catholic Herald and he and Agio met with Faithful Acting for Justice, an interfaith social-justice group.
We hope this is only the beginning. The Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance was founded to bring true cross-cultural exchange. Our 2008 delegation was a great chance for us to work with two outstanding community leaders from Ainaro; we benefitted from their insight and experience, and they gained a better understanding of life in the U.S. We look forward to more such visits. With your help we can make it happen.
On Wisconsin: Reflections from Agio and Father Evaristo
by Father Evaristo Fernandes da Costa Soares and Hermenegildo Magno Gomes
The following comments are excerpted from a video interview conducted for WYOU TV with Agio and Father Evaristo. You can watch the full interview here.
Father Evaristo: Two weeks is very busy for us, because we went to many places in our visit to see how people here organize their farming. We want to get some information about farmwork here, because in East Timor, you know that eighty percent of people are farmers. But the result of the agriculture is not yet enough to sustain the people there. [MASA] organized us to come and see more new experiences here and we will bring to East Timor, and we can implement in our district, especially in Ainaro ... Me, as a priest, I'm involved with education. So we went to the other community in Menominee; we went to see their college, how they organize their forests. They shared with us many experiences.
Agio: In the future, we want the relationship [with MASA] to continue. In East Timor, PERMATIL is a group training people on how to make sustainable agriculture for farmers. For me and my organization, continuing the MASA relationship is one objective. We also want to manage the environment and gardens, and how to produce agriculture and increase income in all the communities of District Ainaro.
Father Evaristo: The USA is a big nation in the world. We come from the small nation of East Timor; we got our independence eight years ago. We still have a conflict, so our nation can not yet keep peace. But after the accident of 11 February [when the Prime Minister and President were attacked] the government has started to keep the peace; we hope that in the future we will keep peace and together we will rebuild and develop our country.
Indigenous Links with the Menominee Nation
by Tom Foley
During Father Evaristo and Agio's recent visit to Madison we had the opportunity to meet with various leaders of the Menominee Indian Tribe. Less than three hours by car northeast of Madison lies the nation of the Menominee, regarded as experts in sustainable forestry and development with an international outlook. We were given an extensive tour of the tribal forest lands, one of the healthiest forests in North America. Along the way we also visited the Menominee Tribal Enterprise sawmill, a sustainable yield facility in NeopitĘthat processes the valuable lumber and creates good-paying jobs. Returning to Keshena, we had a cordial meeting with Dr. Verna Fowler, founding president of the College of the Menominee Nation.
After a moving native language prayer we were then treated to lunch and the opportunity to meet informally with folks from the college, as well as local schools and agricultural groups. Each presentation involved the similarities of struggle, as well as solutions to be strived for.
The college itself was the next tour on the visit. A brand new geo-thermally heated library and hi-tech computer lab were some of the highlights. The Sustainable Development Institute was of special interest to our guests from Ainaro. I think any time different cultures can share wisdom and learn from the positive aspects of long fights for justice the odds of this planets continuation improve.
Special thanks to everyone we met at the college, the foresters, Ęthe people of MTE and especially David "Jonesy" Miller, school board member and organic gardener.
Many thanks also to Collen Coy and Hector Hill for translation help and Mariane Pender for a place to stay during our visit. For more information about the Menominee Nation, visit www.menominee.edu and www.mtewood.com.
Find Us at the Festivals
The Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance is always active in the community, from neighborhood festivals to social gatherings around the city. We distribute news and information about East Timor (especially Ainaro), collect funds for solidarity grants, and sell fair-trade handicrafts made by women in our sister city.
To do important work like delegations and community grants, we depend on your support. Watch for the MASA/ETAN table at a local event near you and say hello!