“They called it ‘Black September’. Two months afterwards, you could still smell the acrid smoke in the air.” The aid worker falls silent, recalling the charred remains of East Timor’s capital, Dili, in 1999. “I saw people in the streets just wandering… wandering, like they didn’t know what to do with themselves.”
September 1999 is burnt into the memory of East Timorese people, when the horrors of the war came to a savage conclusion. As peace-keepers and aid workers later sifted through the wreckage in Dili, they found the bodies of whole families strewn with their possessions around the remains of their burnt homes.
Those aid workers had to face heartbreaking issues. How do you heal the memories of a six-year-old boy who has witnessed the slaughter of his mother and baby brother? How do you help a teenage girl who battles devastating shame and confusion after being raped by a soldier? While the country battles to rebuild its infrastructure, the people of East Timor struggle to overcome deep psychological wounds: the legacy of 24 violent years.
In July, 2003, Crossroads sent a shipment to a group in East Timor, working to help children deal with their horrific experiences. The group, a non-profit organisation, could not afford many of the resources it needed to do this work. We were able to send clothes, shoes and household items for families struggling to rebuild their homes, as well as toys and other items that will be used in the children’s counselling centre. An entire playground set was one of the larger items in the container, which the community helped to build in the grounds of the local school.
An aid worker from this group wrote to thank us for the goods, saying, “Words are not enough to describe the joy we felt upon receiving this container. We’ve been waiting for such materials for a long time.” The playground set was particularly well-received by the children, who have been deprived for so long of a normal, happy childhood. “The children in our school are very eager and excited upon receiving the materials,” he wrote. “They are specially overjoyed with the very nice playground. This playground is so important for the development of the kids, but when it arrived, it was not only the kids who enjoyed it, even the parents and adults are making fuss out of it!”
Our joy is, likewise, great, as we hear such news of lives in East Timor being changed through donated goods from Hong Kong.