Bhupinder Tomar and Maude FrobergPhotos: Marja Pihlajamaki and Albertina Moniz of the Timor-Leste Red Cross
Over the past several weeks, volunteers from the Timor-Leste Red Cross Society, or Cruz Vermelha de Timor-Leste (CVTL), have been providing support to thousands of people displaced by the ongoing social unrest in the country.
The violence started in mid-March, following the government’s dismissal of around 600 soldiers, who had gone on-strike against alleged military discrimination. International peacekeeping troops have arrived in the capital of Dili to help diffuse the tension.
“The situation is calming down but it’s not totally back to normal,” explains Isabel Guterres, the Secretary-General of the Timor-Leste Red Cross.
“We still have more than 25,000 people displaced and living in temporary camps around the country… People are very traumatised and fearful of returning to their homes.”
Timor-Leste is one of the world’s newest countries, having gained independence in 2002 following a vote to split with Indonesia in 1999, and its Red Cross society is also one of the newest in the world. The fledgling society was formed in 2000 and officially recognized last year.
CVTL, which has 10,000 members, is currently providing basic assistance, such as supplementary food, first aid and drinking water to displaced people around the country.
Recently, local Red Cross staff and volunteers, supported by the International Federation, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Austrian Red Cross, distributed biscuits, provided by the World Food Program, and water to around 14,000 people at six temporary shelters.
Timor-Leste’s Red Cross has many young and enthusiastic volunteers who are taking part in the operation, including Juliao da Silva, who joined in 2004 and has been helping to distribute food in Dili.
“We first go around the shelters and do assessments to collect data for planned distribution of food and water,” says Juliao. “When we come back, we report our data to the centralised operational room, where all assessment information is collected and decisions are made on allocation of supplies.”
Despite being a relatively young national society, the Timor-Leste Red Cross has made remarkable progress in recent years, positioning itself as a leading humanitarian agency.
In April, Luiz Freitaes, Head of the Disaster Management for CVTL, attended a training course as part of the International Federation’s Regional Disaster Response Team (RDRT), which has been assisting in relief operations throughout Asia, including the tsunami and Pakistan earthquake.
“Preparedness is key, since one of the main activities of the Timor-Leste Red Cross is to respond to disasters, whether natural or man-made, says Luiz.
“Because of my training, I feel better prepared to respond to emergencies… my skills in analyzing the needs of victims and planning to meet those needs have also increased.”
CVTL and the International Federation’s regional representatives are continuing to closely monitor the situation in Timor-Leste and are prepared to provide further assistance if required.