By Paul Gray
Mission work continues to give hope to young people in Timor L’Este despite the violence which rocked the political system there in the past two weeks, according to the Salesian Missions Office.
The Office’s director Br Michael Lynch returned from a field visit to Timor L’Este just before the attacks which resulted in the hospitalisation of President Jose Ramos-Horta.
Br Lynch, who has worked closely with the Timorese for many years and is in constant contact with church workers there, said it is clear that the young country is still far from settled.
But the progress that has been made since his previous visit in September 2007 is impressive, he says.
“I was greatly saddened by the assassination attempts on the country’s leaders on February 11,” he told The Record this week. “While this is a crisis that the country does not need, it seems that it reflects some underlying and unresolved tensions in the nation.
Br Lynch was accompanied on his visit by Bishop Hilton Deakin, recently retired auxiliary bishop of Melbourne.
“The purpose of my trip was to visit the works of the Salesians and the Salesian Sisters (schools, orphanages, parishes, medical clinics etc) that are heavily supported by Australian donors, some of whom are from West Australia,” Br Lynch said.
“These works, mostly are located away from the capital, Dili, are going well and are a source of hope and encouragement for people.”
The Salesian Centres are in Baucau, Fatumaca, Fuiloro, Laga, Lospalos, Venilale, and Comoro which is in Dili alongside the airport.
The centres are active and providing practical help and training for young people at a time when youth unemployment is a significant problem for the nation overall.
“I spent time at Don Bosco Technical Training Centre Comoro, in Dili, and Don Bosco Technical School Fatumaca,” Br Lynch said . “The schools are providing skills training in electrical wiring, electronics, carpentry, welding and auto mechanics.
“There are 200 students at Fatumaca, and 170 at Comoro, 40 of whom are girls. While most of the girls are learning word processing, there are three specialising in electrical wiring.
“The Salesian Sisters Womens’ Training Centre at Fuiloro caters for 100 women, aged 19 – 26, from the villages. The Centre has courses in basic computer and word processing, dressmaking and sewing, basic health and hygiene and spirituality.
“Many of young women at the centre have been victims of abuse,” he said.
Br Lynch said he and Bishop Deakin were welcomed at the Don Bosco Orphanages at Lospalos and Quelicai, and the Salesian Sisters’ Girls Orphanages in Laga and Venilale.
A highlight of their visit was officiating at the Annual Don Bosco Cup Race Meeting in Lospalos, an event attended by more than 2000 locals.
“The locals participated in three main races riding their Timor ponies bareback,” Br Lynch explained. “Bishop Hilton Deakin was invited to start the main event, I started the second race and the local police chief was the starter for the third race.”
Br Lynch said it was heartening to see the practical results that donations from Australians are producing in the lives of the Timorese.
“Australian donors support a luncheon programme at several of the Salesian schools. On one day we were at Don Bosco Fuiloro, with more than 1000 students, for lunch. I was told that for many of these youngsters, who walk more than an hour to get to school, the lunch is their best meal for the day,” he said.
“We have sent to Timor Leste several containers with school materials, stationery, relief goods and other donated items.
“A large quantity of clothing was given by the Melbourne Cricket Ground for distribution. I was pleased to see the Salesian novices at Fatumaca wearing a set of bright red pullovers with the MCG insignia.”
Br Lynch said general media attention on instability in East Timor does not take account of the good that is being achieved in the country by dedicated religious.
“Overall it was clear to me that the ordinary day to day work of the Salesians and the Salesian Sisters for youth, while not the stuff the makes the headlines in daily papers, is truly making a significant contribution to the building of the nation.
“Everywhere appreciation was expressed for the assistance given by donors to Salesian Missions Australia. Without this help, the struggle would be much greater.”
Donations to support Salesian work in Timor Leste can be sent to: Salesian Missions Office, P O Box 264, ASCOT VALE Vic 3032. Donations are tax deductible.