Old School, beforeA small number of our members met tonight’s guest speaker on the road, half way between Balibo and Dili, as they travelled back from Balibo after completing a Friendship Visit, in June 2018.  This group has previously spoken about their visit to our members and about the need for our continued support for these beautiful people. It was therefore fitting for Roger Thornton, one of these travellers, and Donations in Kind (DIK) District 9820 Chair, to be the chair for this evening, as Roger was instrumental in making our Club aware of what was happening in Timor Leste, enabling us to support the work done by the Balibo House Trust for the people of Timor Leste.
After
To honour the work of the Balibo Trust House it is important to go back in time…back to the events of 1975, which saw the collapse of Portuguese colonial rule and a brief declaration of independence in East Timor.  Then, the Indonesian army backed a pro-integrationist militia to conduct hit & run attacks against the new government, with their sole goal being to destabilise the country as a pretext for invasion.
 
It was evidence of this destabilising force, and the impending invasion of East Timor, that saw five Australian journalists from Channels 7 and 9 travel to a town called Balibó, close to the Indonesian border, in October 1975, to gather first hand witness accounts.  At this time Australia had no issues with Indonesia and we were not in conflict with each other.
The journalists had painted Australian flags and the word Australia on the house where they bunked down, believing that it would make them immune from attack. Tragically, they were mistaken, and all five were targeted and murdered.  There were to be no international eye witnesses as far as the Indonesian army was concerned.
In the invasion and occupation that followed, tens of thousands of East Timorese lost their lives.
After 24 years of brutal occupation Indonesia finally granted the Timorese the opportunity to vote...they could either vote for a measure of autonomy within Indonesia or for independence.
This vote, however, which took place on 30th August 1999, was fraught with danger.
In the months leading up to the ballot, the militia, trained and supported by the Indonesian military, sought to intimidate the local population with threats and violence. Militia leaders warned of a "bloodbath."  As the date of the vote drew nearer, reports of anti-independence violence continued to escalate.
And yet over 98% of the Timorese turned out to vote, with 78% registering a vote in favour of independence.
The manipulated use of militias mirrored the prior events in 1975, and the response to the 1999 vote for independence was both brutal and swift.  Even as United Nations staff returned to the capital, Dili, following the ballot, towns began to be systematically razed.  Within hours of the results, paramilitary groups had begun attacking people and setting fire to buildings around Dili. Foreign journalists and election observers fled, and tens of thousands of East Timorese took to the mountains. As they departed, the Indonesian army left a trail of destruction behind them.  At least 65% of all the buildings in East Timor were torched, over 1500 East Timorese were killed in reprisals, and over 200 000 people were forced into camps in West Timor as part of a massive displacement of the local population.
The devastation constituted significant war crimes against one of the poorest nations on earth.
It only ended with the arrival of UN peacekeeping force, headed by Australia.
This brings us to the present day, twenty years after the popular   consultation, and Timor-Leste is now a peaceful and democratic country.
However, although considerable progress has been made, Timor is still impoverished and faces many pressing challenges.  It is also a very young country. The median age in Timor Leste is 17.4 years. Nearly 40% of the population is under the age of 15.  Timor Leste is a poor nation with a much larger economic burden than many other countries. Levels of malnutrition and stunting remain worryingly high.
Timor-Leste is the second most oil-dependent country in the world. Revenues from oil and gas account for around 90 percent of the National budget annually.  Oil and gas revenue props up the Government’s Budget and government spending props up the economy.
Around 70% of people are still employed in agriculture, with much of the local employment  subsistence farming, growing crops such as rice, potatoes and maize.
 
So how does the Trust and Rob Hudson fit into all of this?  Rob is Chair of the Balibo House Trust, an organisation he founded in 2003.  The Trust was originally conceived by the Victorian Government to  purchase and refurbish the Australian Flag House, where the five Australia Journalists were staying shortly before they were killed. 
The Trust was then established as an independent charity to honour the memories of the Balibo Five, by working with the people of Balibo to enrich their lives.  It is against this backdrop that the Trust has sought to partner with Rotary and others to work with the Balibo community.
 
The Work of the Trust in Early Education
We all know that the foundations of future prosperity are a good education. And yet, early childhood  education is only available to around one quarter of Timor’s children. Early on they sought to rectify this by converting the old police station into a kindergarten. It has since been extended twice, with the help of Rotary, boasting a modern playground. This week students from McKinnon Secondary College will repaint the    building as part of their trip to Timor Leste. Together, with the pre-school assistants who have been trained by the Trust, it is regarded as one of the best kindergartens in the whole of Timor Leste. Not surprisingly it is now bursting at the seams, with 70 children across two sessions each day.
 
The Dental Clinic
Rotary has left its imprint elsewhere in other Trust projects; the community kitchen and café, which not only dishes up meals but generates much needed community income, support for local English, sewing and computer classes, volunteer accommodation to support Australian volunteers who mentor the Trust’s Timorese staff in Balibo, the dental clinic, built with Rotary funding, with dental chairs (one which was made possible through our Club’s funds) being shipped through DIK. Australian volunteer dentists visit the Clinic on a regular basis and there are two Timorese dental assistant who are increasing the range of treatments on offer to the community.
 
The Balibo Fort Hotel
The Balibo Fort Hotel is a social enterprise, providing 16 jobs for local young people in tourism and hospitality, where previously there were none.  In a country where over half the population live on less than $2 a day, any additional income that can be made from new industries like tourism in Balibo matters.  Since opening the hotel the number of recorded visitors to Balibo has more than doubled.
The Conference Centre, which opened last year at the Fort, is another welcome addition to this amazing place.
 
The Belola School
Most recently the Belola School has been built with Rotary help.  The original school was burnt down by the Indonesian army in 1999.  Rotary, together with the Balibo House Trust and Spend It Well, have been central to making this a reality.  Rotary paid for the toilets and shipped the desks and furniture.  It also shipped the playground which has now been installed.  And a Rotarian has paid for the school uniforms at the school.  Two containers, one paid for by our Club, will remain on site to store future shipments of desks and chairs for other schools in the district.  A project to  collect second hand chairs and desks from the Victorian  Education Department and ship them to Dili for distribution to local schools has also  commenced, thanks to the work of DIK.
 
The Railuli School
At Railuli the Rotary effort has been repeated. Railuli is 40 minutes by 4-wheel drive from Balibo.  It is quite remote.  The road is almost impassable in the wet. This is the school which David, Geoff, Roger and Greg visited last year… a shed with a dirt floor and a blackboard, which left such a huge impression on the ‘boys’. It was so unbelievably bad.  It was a horrendous environment for anyone to have to learn in.
However, the new school, which recently opened in July, is a transformation. It is already engaging children in a stimulating new learning environment and it is making a huge difference.  And Rotary has once again come to the fore with a playground and decent toilets...and in a country where half the population does not have a toilet, that is no small thing.
Together with Spend It Well, we as Rotarians have been central to the success of these projects. Rob thanked all the Rotary members present this evening, as we have all been a part of making this happen.
 
So where to from here…
 
New School Projects-Falowai and Aiasa
There are other schools in the district like these two. Rudimentary structures that have been falling apart since Indonesian times. For the school in Falowai the Trust have received a substantial individual donation from a Rotarian that is helping to build the new school there.  And the community is also donating its labour. The Port Melbourne Rotary Club has been successful in attracting a District International Grant that will build the toilet block. 
And they will build a new school at Aiasa once they raise the remaining funding required. The Trust and the people of Timor Leste know the power of education in raising the living standards of their county is enormous and anything that can be done to support this will make a big difference.
 
Water Projects
The Trust’s other current focus is on water. Here in Melbourne we just turn on a tap, but in the villages around Balibo water is mainly sourced from springs and collected in plastic bottles. It is also used for washing and catchments are often contaminated by cattle and open human defecation, because very few people have toilets. Poor water quality results in poor health and poor diets, particularly for children    under five who suffer from illnesses like diarrhoea and Giardia. More generally, their growth is often stunted. Child malnutrition rates are amongst the worst in the world.
Access to secure water supplies would have a significant impact on the production of fruit and vegetable crops. Clean drinking water will reduce infection from water borne diseases and improve very basic things like lifetime kidney function, as well as the permaculture gardens they hope to build with the local village community in each of our schools.
The Trust recently installed a 200,000 litre water tank to collect water from the roof of the Balibo Fort Hotel, so that it can be more self-sufficient in water.  Initial investigative work conducted for the Trust indicates that there are also springs that can be tapped, but more pumping, distribution and purification equipment is required.
Using Sky Hydrant membrane technology, we can produce low cost drinking water in Balibo. Each Sky Hydrant can produce up to 10,000 litres of clean water every day. That is enough water for the essential domestic needs of 500 or more people. The Trust has been able to raise some funds for an initial pilot. In the long term they have in mind a small social enterprise that will deliver 20 litre bottles of clean water on an exchange basis. A large Quad Bike or all-wheel-drive coupled with a small trailer could carry 20 litre bottles of clean water to surrounding villages.
Rotary is held in very high regard as a partner, not only by the Balibo House Trust, but the Balibo community, because on every project where Rotary has committed, Rotary has delivered.
The Balibo House Trust has achieved a lot over the last 20 years, and Rob would like to see our partnership with them grow from strength to strength, so that we can continue to achieve great things together in Balibo.
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