Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste gathered in front of the Bega Valley Shire Council building in Bega this week to mark Independence Day – the day East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on May 20, 2002.
The Advocates were joined by councillors and council staff, students from the Bega Valley Anglican College and other interested individuals for the raising of the Timor Leste flag in Littleton Gardens.
Mayor Bill Taylor said the poverty in Timor Leste had caught the attention of some Bega Valley locals in 2003 when film-maker David Bradbury was the World Environment Day speaker and suggested that people with practical skills could do more to help the new nation than tourism.
“Jim and Moira Collins, and Father Mick Burke were so moved by David Bradbury’s stories of the deprivation in Timor Leste after the Indonesians pulled out that they invited Sister Susan Connelly of the Mary McKillop Institute for East Timor Studies and the Australian Consul General for Timor Leste, Mr Abel Guterres, to Bega to talk to interested locals,” he said.
“From there the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste was born and the organisation formed in 2004 when the Bega Valley Shire Council entered a friendship arrangement with Natarbora, a remote district in the South of Timor Leste.
“The Advocates and a group of local Rotary clubs began a number of very energetic and ambitious projects to restore the buildings and the programs at an agricultural boarding school in Natarbora.
“Now, a decade on, the Bega Valley Shire community has initiated and supported a whole range of projects and programs in Timor Leste including, health, education, music, agriculture, gardening, and construction. If there are skills in the shire, then there is someone to take those skills to Timor.”
Cr Taylor said people who were unable to work physically in Timor worked in the shire raising funds, making curtains, gathering school materials or bicycles, musical instruments, sports equipment, and always raising awareness.
“The broader community has contributed to a Christmas gift program to provide mosquito nets, Tetum dictionaries, infant formula, water pumps and solar powered radios.
“The Advocates have welcomed Timorese people into their homes and workplaces to help advance their existing skills and to learn new ones, such as English.”
After the flag raising, Advocates’ vice president David Gallan, addressed Bega Valley Shire councillors and presented the annual report.
Students from the Bega Valley Anglican College will be visiting Natarbora in Timor Leste in June and will visit local schools there as part of the education program.