I am Hazel Cayenne, I am a Trinidadian. by birth. My country is similar in population to the country East Timor, where I worked as a United Nations Volunteer #122438 three times around. We, like Timor have a population of just approximately one million three hundred thousand people.
I was selected in 1999 to assist in the Popular Consultation in East Timor and with the help of the United Nations Timorese people were given the opportunity to be able to go to the polls after being ruled by the Indonesians who occupied their land for so long.
I worked in a wonderful little village called Manufahi. The people showed such great humility even though conditions were poor; their warm greetings of “Bon Dias Missy” really moved me. I remembered one morning in July of ’99 it was really very cold and I looked out the window from the home where I stayed with my team leader, I was totally mesmerized by what I saw, there was this family of about eleven people all stooping in the yard around a wood fire huddled together just trying to absorb the warmth to their frail bodies, as I was told that around that time of the year is the coldest period. I was really moved as that certainly brought back memories at Christmas time in my country.
I felt honored to assist in the registering of all those legible to vote and admired the way they turned up with documents even though some came without but was wise enough to bring someone as a witness, also many of them were unable to read or write; ‘voter education’ was the key to decision making for the people of East Timor. I, like my team leader made sure everything was in keeping with the rule of law, being very transparent, making sure the process was carried out in a free and fair manner so that the people were able to exercise their rights on “D DAY.”
The Indonesian Malitias were outraged by the outcome of the referendum which brought on the unrest. I received calls after I returned home to my country in 1999 from some UN volunteers who updated me on the happenings. I was told all documents were destroyed and many buildings were burnt flat to the ground, I was devastated by the sad news I received.
I was extremely anxious when I was selected to return in 2000 to Timor; but I was really moved to tears when I got there and saw the devastation, while I learnt some of them ran to the hills for safety, many lives were lost. I was called upon to assist in the registering of the entire population in preparation for new elections. It was a challenge but just knowing I was able to assist in the development and rebuilding of a country that prayed and fought for freedom, made me feel a sense of pride, as a Volunteer. The people came out in their numbers and for this I highly commend their passion for freedom and being able to have the desire to want to run their own country.
Once more in 2007 I was selected to do my civic duty as a UN Volunteer in Timor also there was another uprising in 2006, one well known grocery “Hello Mister” was burnt flat, I was saddened by what I saw because jobs were so scarce when I left in 2001. I felt somewhat elated though when I saw some young Timorese boys and girls working so diligently trying to make an honest living, also in 2007 I saw a brighter future ahead for the children whereby they were all attending schools and those who had reached secondary education being given the opportunity to attend the University in Dili. Jobs were being made possible by the assistance of International Intervention which helped to boost the economy for a better East Timor.
In summing up I can attest that Timor Leste is a beautiful country with a beautiful people, there’s one thing I do hope would be addressed for the people in the rural areas like Manufahi where I was deployed in 1999, that equality for all be shown so that the people can experience a better way of life for their families, especially in education and job creation which would definitely pave the way for greater productivity.
I can definitely say that volunteering is the key towards the achievement of sustainable development in countries like Timor Leste that look forward to ongoing support from us. Working along with communities and different organizations allow you to see what is being done for the future and from what I have experienced, I am assured that democracy is alive and well in that country.