East Timor – the first update

The contingent of four former servicemen who served in East-Timor or Timor-Leste, with 3 staff members from Soldier On and 4 staff members from The Citadel Group arrived in Dili Timor-Leste on Thursday morning. After booking into the accommodation, the group was shown around Dili which has been, so far, an informative look at the country that the servicemen remember from very different times.

Of the four former servicemen, two, one Army, the other Air Force served during the early day of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET) in 1999, one served during the civil conflict in 2006 and the other in 2008.

Sarah Curby, Shallyn Horan, Julian Bahamon, Gayle Judd, Andrew Gare and Paul Porter, (Sarah Julian and Andrew are Citadel. Rest AFP

All had preconceived ideas about the place but were keen to see what it looked like now. The first change noticed was a large statue of Nicolau Lobato on the roundabout coming from the airport that was named in his honour. Driving down the main route into Dili, also named after him, it was a pleasure to see new construction and reconditioned buildings. The bridge over the river has been duplicated with two lanes now on each side. Gone largely are the burnt out buildings of the past, however the shanty like homes and shop fronts were very much in evidence.

In past deployments, the absence of local industry was noticeable, with the streets lined with out of work adults and young men sitting amongst piles of rubbish on the sides of the road, children and women begging, all with looks of hopelessness on their faces. No one smiled or responded to a friendly wave.

This time, the streets were packed with buses, trucks, motor vehicles of every size, motor bikes and of course, Microlets in their hundreds. Pedestrians, mostly well dressed and groomed, fill the footpaths. Industry can be seen everywhere from road side mechanical repairs to new car sales, street stalls selling a multitude of product to a major shopping centres, from local street-side food stalls to classy restaurants to high class hotels.

Today (Friday), the group was invited to a physical training session and volley ball match against the Timor-Leste Police (PNTL). The event was coordinated by the Australian Federal Police Development Program Timor-Leste (AFPDP-TL). About 100 PNTL members headed by Assistant Superintendent Euccledes Eleo, the Second in Command of Caicoli Police Station with new recruits, trainees and trained police welcoming the group enthusiastically. Gayle Judd, Shallyn Horan and Paul Porter from AFPDP-TL joined the Soldier On group to team up against the PNTL.

Assistant Superintendent ELeo explained the rules and after some warm up exercise lead the combine group out of the compound on to the road and proceeded to jog around the block. That culminated in pairs sprinting the last 100 metres. The Soldier On and AFP group acquitted itself admirably with only one casualty who fell over and took some skin off.

Needless to say, PNTL were the volley ball victors.

Veteran Brian Turnbull Veteran Graeme Henley getting flogged at volley ball

From there, the group, including the AFPDP-TL visited the Dominican Orphanage and donated food, health and educational items to assist. Madre Mila and the girls at the orphanage were most grateful.

After that, the group lunched at a restaurant staffed entirely by rehabilitated victims of violence. This initiative is part of the AFPDP-TL’s Vulnerable Persons Unit. It was good to see first-hand an effective welfare program in what had once been a country devastated by violence and civil unrest.

The last visit was to the Saint Clara orphanage on the outskirts of Dili. Once again, the group provided food, health and educational items to the orphanage. The girls and Madre Mahulu thanked the group with a lovely song.

– This story was prepared by veteran and participant, Graeme H.

This program was made possible through the generous sponsorship and support of Citadel Group, Jamieson Foley and Geelong Rotary.