Timor's children of independence

Orphans born as the country gained independence face uncertain future.


    The children of East Timor are
    facing an uncertain future
    On the map it is only a short distance from East Timor's capital, Dili, to the hill town of Baguia. But in reality the journey takes almost six hours.

    While the pace and the mountain climate seem less heated than in the capital, the problems experienced by the population are similar.

    East Timor is suffering from a severe shortage of rice.

    The government is blaming a poor rice crop in Vietnam this season and says Indonesia is experiencing similar issues.

    While the government and international agencies try to resolve the problem, the children of Baguia are keeping a close eye on what they eat.

    The town's orphanage is home to 48 children. It is run by two women and in a good month, has a budget of $200 per week.

    At the moment though money is scarce - the sacks of rice sitting in the pantry are 'borrowed' from a merchant in Dili. He is well aware it may be many months before he sees any payment.

    The children of Baguia's orphanage are the children of East Timor’s independence.

    Most of them were born in 1998 and 1999, around the time East Timor voted for self-rule after more than two decades of often bloody Indonesian occupation.

    At the time these children were born the country was brimming with hope, but eight years later, those hopes seem all but forgotten.


    Few in East Timor have yet to reap
    the benefits of independence
    Father Georgio San-Juan, a Catholic priest, oversees the Baguia orphanage.

    The children, he says, "are the future of the country" and they have high hopes, like children anywhere in the world.

    But, he says, when they see the recent violence that has shaken East Timor they begin to ask questions.

    "Father why?" they ask him. "We have independence, but still we are struggling."

    East Timor has valuable resources and the potential to be a rich country.

    In fact, according to the government's own figures, it is already earning $100 m every month from oil revenues in the offshore Greater Sunrise gas field.


    Growing frustrations are already boiling
    over ahead of April's election [EPA]
    Over the next 20 years, East Timor, with a population of less than one million people is expected to earn $10 bn – a figure Jose Ramos Horta, the country's prime minister, says is a conservative estimate.

    But so far, few in East Timor are seeing any of the benefits.

    The government has effectively been crippled in recent months, with Ramos Horta at the head of a cabinet which remains loyal to Mari Alkitiri, his predecessor who was forced to resign last year amid widespread rioting.

    As a result much-needed budget measures have stalled, along with initiatives like road building and health care schemes.

    At the orphanage in Baguia the children go on playing with more enthusiasm than most.

    They have a tremendous lust for life despite facing seemingly insurmountable odds.

    One of the students, 8-year-old Lisia Ximenes says she wants only one thing: "for East Timor to find peace".

    Peace though may be a long time coming for East Timor. Elections are due in a month's time and the president has already enacted emergency powers in an attempt to quell growing unrest.

    East Timor is still a young country, but it is learning the hard way that independence does not neccesarily mean stability.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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