Peace, Love & Democracy for the Enclave of Oecusse

By: Sarah Francis
Translators Tomas da Luz & Celso Maijor

In East Timor’s district of Oecusse, an enclave incongruously
land-locked by West Timor, Antonio Seran leads a Peace Day
celebration. Held two days earlier than the official Peace Day,
residents of the remote sub-village of Baki do not seem to mind the
discrepancy. The theme of Baki’s Peace Day celebration is democracy.

The concept of ‘democracy’ is relatively new to East Timor; its first
democratic elections were held only five years ago. Consequently,
empowering East Timorese youth to become active citizens is a
priority of Timor Aid, East Timor’s leading development organisation.
Timor Aid’s Youth Civic Education Project began in Oecusse three
years ago, and covers seven districts nationally. It aims to increase
youth understanding of governance issues, enhance their capacity to
participate fully in civil society, and to strengthen relationships
between youth organisations and decision-makers.

Antonio Seran, or ‘Claro’ as he is affectionately nicknamed, is the
head of the youth civic education steering committee in Oecusse. He
has received extensive training in 15 youth civic education topics,
been on national and international study tours and undertaken
internships as part of the project. Claro talks about how the project
has changed his life: “After I completed an internship in Jakarta,
the door (to greater opportunities) was wide open. When I run
activities now I am not just any staff member but I am in the top
position. I am a trainer to other groups. I feel like the sun is
shining down on me.”

The Peace Day celebration in Baki begins with Claro teaching a small
group of youth in their early 20s about democracy. A brainstorm about
democracy yields few results; while everyone has heard the term
‘democracy’ before today, for many this is the first time that its
meaning has been properly explained. During the discussion Claro
regularly pauses to ensure that he is not proceeding too quickly for
his students. As he introduces new concepts to them he asks his
class, “Claro?” (meaning ‘clear?’), to which his students cheekily
reply, “Claro, Senior Claro!” As the sun sets the classroom darkens
and the lights do not switch on- electricity is unreliable in
Oecusse- yet you can still see the white teeth of Claro’s grin,
smiling through the dark as he interacts with his students.

Fabiao de Oliveira, Timor Aid’s Oecusse District Coordinator, is
proud of the district of Oecusse. Its geographical separation from
the rest of East Timor may be one reason why its residents have not
included themselves in recent bouts of violence. Fabiao believes that
the Youth Civic Education Project has also played a part in
preventing conflict, through anticipatory programs such as the
training of the local martial arts group in conflict resolution.
“Fifty people in Oecusse have directly benefited from the Youth Civic
Education Project so far,” relates Fabiao, “And indirect
beneficiaries number more than 2,000 people. After the civic
education training, ten percent of participants gained employment or
took on leadership positions in their communities.” The project,
funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID)
through Mercy Corps, is currently in the process of becoming
independent of Timor Aid, so that it can be locally sustained without
outside technical assistance. The steering committee has been running
autonomously for the past month, and is seeking funding to run
training sessions in project proposal writing, to further facilitate
its transition to independence.

Dust flies into the air and sails over the crowd of onlookers, as the
children of Baki begin to dance to the uplifting melodies of Claro’s
band. The festivities have moved outside now, and the whole village
has congregated to witness the event. As the band sings about youth,
peace and democracy, the children yell out familiar lyrics and their
parents laugh, amused by their unbounded enthusiasm. Feet are
stomping, hips are wiggling, and as Claro teases the crowd by asking
if the band should stop playing, the children adamantly shout, “No!”

Steering committee members Maria Monteiro and Clotilde Tavares have
also benefited from the Youth Civic Education Project. When asked
what skills they have gained from the project they nervously giggle,
and after much coaxing Clotilde ironically reveals that she is now
more confident in public speaking. “Before if someone asked me to
publicly speak I was afraid, but now that I have the capacity to I am
more confident.” Earlier this year on a youth civic education study
tour in Maliana, Bobonaro district, Oecusse won the public speaking
competition. Maria contributes to Clotilde’s answer by saying that
she is optimistic about her skills because now she can share her
ideas with decision-makers.

As the evening draws to a close, one by one the children of Baki sit
down on the ground, weariness setting in after the night’s events.
The Peace Day celebration is declared a success; Claro’s students
have even requested that he return to their village on Sunday to
continue the youth civic education discussions. The children have
been exposed to the campaign’s messages in a fun and engaging way,
which should increase their receptiveness to youth civic education in
the future.

Claro sees the potential for positive change in his country. “In the
future I hope that the people of East Timor will understand about
democracy, rights and responsibilities, in order to create a national
spirit of citizenship.”

contact: Sarah Francis
External Relations Coordinator
Timor Aid
Ph: +670 731 2142


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