Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Ti(mor)e or Les(s)te - A Paradise of Promise!

It's paradise...more or less.

The imprint of Portugal, Timor Leste's colonial master, on the land lingers. If you don't hear it taught or spoken, the signboards on streets and signages of shops and property are visible representations of a language very much alive in this place. The old-world feel of this young nation (gaining independence only in 2002 after a shortlived 9-day stretch in 1975) has many scars to show for - holed out buildings, poverty, malnourished citizens and high unemployment attest to a nation finding its feet. Like a mother hen is to her chick, a strong United Nations presence is felt throughout Dili - exactly what a fledgling nation needs to attain some kind of social and political stability to get the economic engine going.

Leading the charge towards nation building is its President Jose-Ramos Horta, a Nobel laureate. The former foreign minister has encountered firsthand the atrocities during the Indonesian occupation, where four of eleven of his siblings were killed. Yet his focus is forward-looking. When Pam and I spoke with him in person during our visit to Dili, he singled out Singapore as a country whose successes ought to be emulated. He said in jest that if he had a nation made up of Chinese, Jews and Indians, they'd work hard to get the economy growing and the rest of his people could just sit back and watch. He was a president most candid and accessible to his own people.

Pam and I were honoured to have chatted with the president the day before we participated in the inaugural Dili 'City of Peace' Marathon. Pam chose the leisurely 5-kilometre run while I signed up for the punishing half marathon - my first and one I hadn't trained for. Together with about 20 other members who signed up with The Chain Reaction Project (TCRP), amongst them our ex-colleague Melanie Oliveiro, we were part of the small Singapore contingent of runners at the landmark event that saw international participants, mostly from Australia (just a 60-min flight away).

The run wasn't the sole purpose (no pun intended) of the trip. Rather, it was a trip with soul! Our particpation to be 'catalysts' through TCRP would benefit HIAM Health - a local NGO in Dili set up to alleviate the widespread problem of malnutrition and to raise awareness among parents on what they can do for their children. Our visit coincided with the official opening of a sponsored playground in the premises by Singapore company Playpoint. Director of HIAM Health Rosaria Martins da Cruz was most heartened by the contributions received. It was TCRP's founder Zhang Tingjun who'd helped raise the awareness of their work to the attention of President Horta. That was how he agreed to be the guest of honour who officiated at the ceremony to open the playground.

Timor Leste has much potential for economic progress and development. With hope in the eyes of a people wanting to move on from the its grim days of civil unrest, with natural resources and an untapped market that could bring in the tourist dollar, Timor Leste has a lot going for it, and it could do with international help to prop it up on its feet and prime it for the long run ahead.

> To keep tabs with more exciting projects planned by The Chain Reaction Project, sign up as a member with TCRP on Facebook!
> To support the good work at HIAM Health,
click here.
> To read our previous entry on TCRP, drop by this page.

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