(680 words) With photo. xxxi
Former East Timor guerrillas receive job training at Salesian center
Editors: The author is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia, who traveled to East Timor with an Australian aid group, Austcare.
By Christine Kearney Catholic News Service
DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- Cipriano Alves Amaral seems an unlikely freedom fighter.
The soft-spoken, 26-year-old grew up wanting to become an electrician. Instead, he became a guerrilla, joining East Timor’s armed resistance movement four years ago.
For two years, he fought from the jungles surrounding the town of Same against Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of East Timor.
The guerrillas, known by their Portuguese acronym, Falintil, disbanded in February 2001, more than a year after the East Timorese overwhelmingly rejected Indonesian rule in a 1999 U.N.-sponsored referendum.
Now more than two years after the referendum, Amaral is learning to become an electrician.
He is one of 21 former Falintil guerrillas learning to become electricians, carpenters and welders in a10-month program at the Salesian-run Don Bosco Technical Training Center in the Dili suburb of Comoro.
“We feel happy (to be learning here), because it will be good for our future, even though the future isn’t 100 percent clear,” he said.
Amaral’s youth and ability to read and write set him apart from many other Falintil members, most of whom are illiterate.
Salesian Brother Adriano de Jesus, Don Bosco headmaster, said some of the guerrillas spent their formative years in the jungle rather than at school.
While many former Falintil were reconstituted into the new Defense Force of East Timor, those with poor literacy skills failed the entrance exams.
“We have to teach (some of the students) from zero to write and read,” Brother de Jesus said.
Because of the lack of a formal education among the guerrillas, classes requiring theory have been a struggle, Brother de Jesus said.
“We expect them to attend the (theory classes), although they don’t know how to read or to write, so we have to go very slowly, explain slowly and repeat so they can understand,” he said.
Although the soldiers are well respected for the role they played in the resistance movement, their standing in the community does not translate into employment or a steady income.
Good jobs are scarce. Brother de Jesus said many ex-soldiers who don’t work “just stay home.”
“There are some of them who have been in the forest for 24 years and they come back and they (are) just left behind,” he said.
Other former guerrillas are involved in job training programs supported by the International Organization for Migration, he added.
Brother de Jesus said Falintil leaders were concerned that bored former guerrillas could form gangs.
“It’s a big question also for the (Timorese) people who were asking the government to do something for these ex-Falintil,” he said.
The students receive a monthly stipend while attending the technical training. After graduation, they will be paid $15 a week for a one-month job.
Some of the students are planning to form cooperative businesses in their villages and towns after graduation.
A number of carpentry graduates also will be employed in the Don Bosco workshop.
The center is doing a brisk trade supplying schools with chairs and tables to replace those burned in 1999, when the Indonesian military and militias implemented a scorched-earth policy as they withdrew from East Timor.
U.N.-administered East Timor is expected to receive full independence in May, when the fledgling nation’s first democratically elected government is expected to assume control.
Brother de Jesus said that, while there is a lot of uncertainty about the economy, he remains upbeat about his country’s future.
“During the Indonesian time, somehow we always got pressures from the (Indonesian) government; they always say that we are forming (the young people) to fight with Indonesians,” he said.
“But we are free, and the students are free to come to school and go home,” he said.
Amaral is optimistic, too.
“During our time in Falintil, we knew that we had to keep going, until we had our freedom, whether it came today or tomorrow or in the future,” he said.
Now, Amaral said, he looks forward to fulfilling his boyhood dream and opening a business as an electrician.
1 Taur Matan Ruak: Speech at Falintil transition ceremony
Speech added Feb 3
"Our final words are reserved to express our deepest and most respectful tribute to the People of East Timor: for their determination and their steadfastness which motivated us; for the love that you always gave in feeding us, nursing us and encouraging us; for the heroism in resisting which inspired us; and for teaching us to be humble and to fulfil our duty to defend our Homeland." Commander Taur Matan Ruak, FALINTIL (The Armed Forces for National Liberation of East Timor)
BD: FRETILIN - Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor / Frente Revolucionaria do Timor Leste Independente - A collection of recent speeches, documents, statements, news and reports
BD: Peoples' Participation / Partisipasaun Politika / Partisipasi Politik / Participação Dos Povos - A collection of recent media releases, reports and articles
BD: Reconstruction and 'Aid & Development' / Rekonstrusaun i 'Ajuda i Dezenvolvimentu' / Pembangunan Kembali / Reconstrução e 'Ajuda e Desenvolvimento' - A collection of recent press releases, reports, and articles