At the end of January 2008 I returned from a field visit to East Timor accompanied by Bishop Hilton Deakin, recently retired Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
While it was clear to me that East Timor is still far from settled, I was impressed by the progress that had been made since my previous visit in September 2007.
I was greatly saddened by the assassination attempts on the country's leaders on 11 February and while this is a crisis that the country does not need, it seems it reflects some underlying and unresolved tensions.
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. These works, mostly located away from the capital, Dili, are going well and are a source of hope and encouragement.
The Salesian centres are in Baucau, Fatumaca, Fuiloro, Laga, Lospalos, Venilale, and Comoro, which is in Dili alongside the airport. I spent time at Don Bosco Technical Training Centre Comoro (Dili) and Don Bosco Technical School Fatumaca. 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.
We were also welcomed at the Don Bosco Orphanages at Lospalos and Quelicai, and the Salesian Sisters' Girls Orphanages in Laga and Venilale.
While in Lospalos we saw the Annual Don Bosco Cup Race Meeting. Attended by more than 2000, the locals participated in three main races riding bareback their Timor ponies. 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.
Among the many benefits made possible by Australian support has been a luncheon program 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.
In addition, the Salesians and their supporters have enabled several containers with school materials, stationery, relief goods and other donated items to be sent to East Timor while 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.
Overall it was clear to me that the ordinary day-to-day work for youth of the Salesians and the Salesian Sisters, while not the stuff that makes headlines in Australia's 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 the Salesians' work in East Timor can be sent to: Salesians Missions Office, PO Box 264, Ascot Vale, Vic 3032. Donations are tax deductible. Confirmation, Br Michael Lynch, tel (03) 9386-6302.