Locals in the thick of East Timor turmoil

Lismore resident Janelle Saffin and The Channons Toola Andrianopoulos at the Government Palace against a backdrop of shattered glass reflecting the shattered dreams of the East Timorese as a result of the violence that erupted on April 28 this year. Photo: Marian Lester.

Janelle Saffin and Toola Andrianopoulos hope that the deployment of more than 150 Australian and Malaysian police in Dili this week will mean theyll no longer have to deal with requests to call the army when someones house is burning down.

Janelle, a Lismore resident and former NSW MLC, is a political advisor to Minister for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation, Jose Ramos-Horta, who is also the Minister for Defence and Co-ordinating Minister.

Toola, from The Channon, is personal assistant to First Lady and Alola Foundation chairperson, Kirsty Sword-Gusmao. She is working on humanitarian issues with the victims of army, police and civilian violence and responding to the needs of Internally Displaced People in refugee camps, particularly women and children.

Since returning to East Timor on June 8, Toola has been working to re-establish Alolas network in the aftermath of the recent violence.

One of her first jobs was re-establishing contact with Alola foundation staff, many of whom have been traumatised by the violence.

There are an estimated 50-70,000 Internally Displaced People in the country, she told The Echo this week. Over 1000 houses have burnt in and around Dili alone. More than 20 Alola staff are now back working from the Dili office while a further 15 are working from our centre in Baucau.

Toola said that while Alola was maintaining its focus of supporting women and children it had adjusted its existing program to respond to the current emergency.

We began daily distribution of maternity packs at the Dili National Hospital on June 12, she said. Alola staff go to the hospital each morning and distribute the packs to new mothers in association with the nursing staff. The nurses then use material supplied with the kits to provide information to mothers on care and nutrition for the newborn babies as well as on breastfeeding.

Alola has also been working with other agencies to establish child-friendly spaces in camps. They provided mats, colouring books, crayons and toys, as well as staff to support the program at six large camps last week.

The foundation has distributed scholarship funds to schools in districts outside Dili and the program to establish mothers support groups in Baucau has been brought forward.

Alola has also had to respond to the immediate needs of their Dili staff. Further support such as counselling and other services can only be provided when staff are able to return to their homes.

While the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri triggered the dismissal of the government, it is staying in office in a caretaker role until a new government is formed. Talks between President Xanana Gusmao, Fretilin and other political parties to select a new Prime Minister are now underway.

The front-runner appears to be Janelles boss Jose Ramos-Horta who, as Co-ordinating Minister, is effectively caretaker Prime Minister.

Armed groups have handed over weapons, thanks to a successful program conducted by the army, and the Australian and Malaysian police have set about resurrecting the Timor Leste National Police, which collapsed after April 28, Toola said.

Toola said the caretaker government has also announced it will rebuild houses destroyed in the violence, which is welcome news for the many people left homeless.

But after six years of rebuilding their nation from the ashes, it is heart breaking that people will have to start from scratch again.

A fundraising concert to support Toolas work will be held at The Channon Hall on Saturday, July 15, at 5pm. See next weeks paper for full details.

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