I recently visited Timor-Leste and discovered that despite being small, it’s a young country with big dreams and a strong spirit.
In October 2015, I had the honour and privilege of interviewing Minister Xanana Gusmao, who is the former and first President of Timor-Leste. He came to Singapore to take part in Channel NewsAsia’s Perspectives panel about Diplomacy of Small States.
From speaking to the man who played an integral part of leading the half-island nation to independence, I caught a small glimpse of Timor-Leste’s determination to make its voice heard and advance its interests at an international stage.
I was living in Jakarta at the time of the political turmoil between Indonesia and Timor-Leste. All I remember was hearing about this small half-island gaining independence in 2002. I was 10 at the time so I did not know what the fuss was all about. Looking back and learning about it now, it was a big feat for a small nation.
In February this year (2016) I was lucky to get the opportunity to visit Timor-Leste. I visited Dili, the capital, and managed to catch a boat to Atauro island.
It is an under developed city. Most of the people live up in the hills along slippery mud slopes.
There are no speed limits. To get to different parts of the city people often need to drive along the coast line.
I also remember seeing a Hungry Jacks at the airport when I arrived and I drove past a Gloria Jeans once. That’s as far as international franchises goes from what I saw. (There was no McDonalds).
Most Timorese speak Tetun and some are educated in Portuguese and some in Indonesian.
These are just some of the impressions I had of Dili. But behind all of this, I learned of the Timorese determination to fight for their international rights. A week before I arrived there was a protest of about 4000 people in front of the Australian Embassy. Timorese protesters were calling on Australia to respect Timor-Leste’s sovereignty pertaining to the maritime boundary dispute.
I managed to speak to business leaders and civil society about their thoughts and put this piece together:(click photo to read full article)
The Timorese hope to send a message to the international community to say that although they’re small, they are not to be underestimated.
Small indeed does matter
© 2014 GLOBALCITIZENSAM