East Timor is the world's youngest nation since it gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. Its population of 998,000 includes 500,000 children, so it is a young nation in every sense of the word.
In the 1960s and '70s it was an emerging adventure travel and backpacker destination thanks to its palm-fringed beaches, wonderful diving and proximity to Australia. That pretty much ended when Indonesia invaded the country after the Portuguese left in 1975.
In 2002 when it claimed its independence, it was seen to be getting back on its feet, with tourists starting to see it as a potential travel destination once again. Continued civil unrest since 2006 after the UN pulled back its peacekeeping troops, and the recent assassination attempt on President Jose Ramos-Horta, have seen tourism leave East Timor once again.
There are many people involved in restoring hope and dignity to the people of East Timor one of those being Australia's 2007 Miss World entrant, Caroline Pemberton.
Caroline's life isn't all about beauty pageants and catwalks. She has visited East Timor, Uganda and Kenya. She was so passionate about East Timor, Getaway accompanied her on another visit. Far from the world of beauty, Caroline worked as a volunteer at an orphanage way off the beaten track.
High heels and glamorous dresses are swapped for boots and working clothes as she returns to the village of Baguia, deep in the mountains, to roll her sleeves up and give valuable assistance to Father Chris Riley from Youth Off The Streets.
Father Riley has been visiting East Timor for around eight years. He says that introducing the children to the children in Baguia is an effective way of giving them perspective on their own situations. Father Riley and the children spend each day interacting with the village children and distributing toys and general supplies.
Since 1991, Youth Off The Streets has been helping homeless and disadvantaged young people in Australia, and has now expanded its reach with the Youth Off The Streets Overseas Relief Fund. Working on small projects alongside local partners, Youth Off The Streets Overseas Relief Fund provides non-religious and non-discriminatory assistance, including housing, education, health and welfare to children and young people in countries emerging from conflict and other challenges.
In 2006, Father Riley was awarded the Human Rights Medal from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and the Austcare Peter Cullen Humanitarian Award, in addition to becoming a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) at the Queen's Birthday Honours.
Baguia is around a six-hour drive from the capital Dili. The bumpy drive along rough roads is rewarded when the entire village coming out to greet the arrivals.
The village is really isolated, the people are poor and there's not the luxury of resources, but there is a lot of building and infrastructure happening. Caroline noticed a great difference in just a year, particularly in terms of nourishment. Not long ago, a bowl of rice a day was all there was, but now there are fruit, vegetables and salad incorporated into the daily diet resulting in much healthier villagers.
Dormitories have also improved. There are new bunk beds and mosquito netting and cupboards for storing precious goodies.
A special treat for the children happens just twice a year. They go to the river for a swim. It's too far away to walk, so when they are taken there it's such an exciting occasion.
Australians generously donate to East Timor. Food, clothing and things like soccer boots are so gratefully received and you can be assured that anything you give is put to good use.
East Timor, 400km north of Australia.
Eco Discovery Timor Leste has seven-night/eight-day Jaco Island Discovery tours. They include experienced local English or Portuguese and Tetum-speaking tour guide, airport transfers, Dili Discovery Tour, outrigger transfer to Jaco and local guide to the Leneara Caves and Ili Kere Kere Wall.
Accommodation is twin share for four nights in Dili, one night in Baucau, one night in Lospalos, one night camping in Tutuala and one night at Com Resort. Six breakfasts are included and you should allow around $30 a day for meals. All up it costs around $3530 per vehicle, up to four people sharing.
For further information
Eco Discovery Timor Leste
2/20 Rua dos Martires da Patria
Ph: +670 332 2454
Youth Off The Streets
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