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Searching for a future among the ashes - people coming home

14-10-1999

The scattered debris are the poignant reminders of a past life - odd shoes, tattered clothing, papers from the school's english lesson litter the village - blackened squares of land are often the only thing left to denote the fact that this was until a few weeks ago somebody's home.

In this village, in the district of Likisa, west of Dili, the community has just returned from the hills which are clearly visible in the distance. They are eager to relate their experiences to you - how they fled en masse to seek sanctuary from the militia, how they lived on plantlife in the open air waiting for the moment they could go home.

Home now is a smashed and scorched wasteground where the atmosphere of vehemence which went into the destruction still hangs in the air. The villagers shrug their shoulders in sad resignation, but the fear is still evident - the sound of a car or motorbike in the distance brings people running to strain in the distance to know who it is and the children stare with hollow expressions.

   

Ref. TP-N-00032-13

Apart from some women who bear the physical hallmarks of their recent hardship, most people look in remarkably good health
considering their ordeal, albeit disheveled - their belongings, already limited in East Timor have burnt along with their homes.

The arrival of the ICRC truck is greeted with overwhelming relief. It is the first visit from a humanitarian organisation and the whole village quickly emerge from their makeshift shelters to excitedly chase the trucks down the dusty road. This is the first aid they have received since their return - yet the restraint and patient is impressive.

The atmosphere is good-natured as the menfolk willingly jump on board to help with unloading. The elderly sit around smoking
home-made cigarettes whilst the women and children gather in a small crowd to watch with a curiosity which is a hallmark of
East Timorese people.

The aid - cooking pots, hygiene material, clothes, bamboo mat and other emergency relief is handed out as families are called
forward. We call back again in the afternoon to see the distribution still going smoothly and where we can see families
walking down the road with their goods piled on their backs.

The storm clouds gather ominously in the sky as a constant reminder of the time constraints that face everybody to prepare
the community for the difficult rainy season. Clearly, people need to come home like these villagers in order for humanitarian
organisations to reach them with aid and it is hoped that the improving security situation acts as an incentive.

Those who have display an underlying sense of deep uncertainty about the future which ma y soon cloud the relief of being home.

" My sense is that many people are still in a state of shock. They need to believe in a future and beyond the immediate aid to
help them survive the immediate days and weeks, we all need to find ways to encourage self-sufficiency to avoid a culture
dependency. "

But for many they are just thankful to leave the ordeal for the past weeks behind them : " She asked me if we were happy to be
home? " asks one villager with incredulity as I asked the question. The rest just laughed.