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Uniting Church helping rebuild East Timor

The fight for freedom from Indonesia for the East Timorese people may have ended after they voted for their president, raised their own flag, and sang their own national anthem on 19 May 2002.

But the process of rebuilding the new nation of just over one million people remains a big challenge, which a young former East Timorese freedom fighter presented to delegates of the 14-23 February World Council of Churches’ assembly in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.

"Politically, we are enjoying our new-found freedom that we fought and paid for with our blood. But our fight for a better life is not yet over," said Hermenegildo Amaral, aged 25, who joined the guerrilla movement when he was 18 and whose parents were among about 200 000 people who died during the 1975-1999 Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

"Except for the cities, there just is no water and electricity in the rest of my country," he said. "We also have to build schools, clinics and hospitals. We need to get education to help rebuild our country. Mass education is our hope for a better life."

Amaral, a member of the Student Christian Movement, spoke during a side meeting of the WCC assembly, at which church leaders present pledged to support East Timor, a country where more than 90 per cent of the people are Christians. Before the Indonesian invasion East Timor was a Portuguese colony.

A third-year nursing student at a university in Porto Alegre, Amaral said he was thankful for the scholarship given to him by the Uniting Church in Australia. Without it he said he could not afford to further his education and he undertook to return home to serve his people after he graduates.

Devastated during the Indonesian occupation, East Timor needs to establish democratic structures and institutions, but according to Amaral, the new government is allegedly mired in corruption and sometimes in nepotism.

Shortly after East Timor’s independence in 2002, many agencies from the United Nations and donor groups came with help for the fledgling country. But, said Amaral, he and his people needed to be equipped with skills and expertise "so we could stand on our own feet rather than relying on the hand-outs of aid agencies".

Providing opportunities to develop these skills and expertise, he said, is where the churches of the world can lend a hand. [

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