Remaining Optimistic About the Future in Timor Leste

Local camp manager Edio Da Costa never imagined that he would find himself an internally displaced person (IDP) twice in his lifetime. When Indonesian-backed militias tore through his neighbourhood in 1999, he was forced to flee from Dili until international peacekeepers brought calm and stability back to the island.

As a government civil servant training Timorese entrepreneurs in small business management, three months ago Da Costa was confident in the tiny nation's economic development and amazed at the progress that had been made in just a few short years.

But when rioting and gang violence broke out unexpectedly last May, Da Costa and several other families in his area fled once again, this time to the Comoro Airport where several thousand Dili residents were starting to gather.

"Our first reaction was shock at how quickly the situation deteriorated," Da Costa remembers. "After that panic started to settle in as we realized how little food and water we had. One day we were living ordinary lives, and the next we didn't have a roof over our heads. There wasn't even a doctor available to treat the growing number of sick children."

Since that time, life has changed considerably for the people at the Comoro airport. International organizations rushed to the aid of the camp, providing rice, food, water and shelter for the nearly 5500 people now living at the site. In the last eight weeks, Da Costa has worked tirelessly 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure that all the IDPs living there are provided for.

With so many IDPs living in one area, Da Costa says that high-level coordination between his team of IDP volunteers and international organizations has been the key to their survival. When he first arrived at the site, he took the lead in organizing volunteers in health, security and food committees to try and manage the camp's needs. But with little access to the outside world, they had no idea how to get the supplies they desperately required.

For that reason, Da Costa and is volunteer team were relieved when IOM and NGOs Rede Feto and AustCare arrived at the scene to assume a coordination role with the numerous humanitarian assistance organizations involved in the relief effort. Their close partnership has yielded a much better life for the people at the camp - they now have food and shelter, water and sanitation facilities, routine visits by a doctor, and even special areas for children to play.

The collaborative work between Da Costa and IOM, Rede Feto and AustCare is an ongoing and a never-ending task, a difficult job of which Da Costa has never received a single cent for doing so relentlessly. However, even as the life of camp residents gradually improves, the impact of the situation on people's daily lives can never be fully diminished.

"We still face isolation and trauma from what has happened - and it would be unfair to say that we could ever fully adjust to this kind of environment. We are grateful for our tents, but they are not very conducive to private family life. Everything is a reminder of how little control we have over our own lives, which can be very frustrating,"
notes Da Costa.

As they look forward to going home one day, they display faith that national unity can be achieved once again. The example, they say, is in the harmony that has developed in the camp, which has blurred the lines between East and West and has brought together total strangers.

That, believes Da Costa, is proof that with continued outside help to confront the wounds of the past, the people of Timor-Leste can again embark upon a path of national peace and prosperity.