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World Vision Aid Helps Clean Up Dili

by Scoop/World Vision Correspondent, James Addis

In amongst the burned out rubble-strewn streets of Dili, a team of local labourers - men and women - slowly, but diligently clear up the mess.

They're participants in a World Vision food for work scheme. An initiative, which not only tidies war-ravaged streets, but keeps local people productively employed and well-fed.

It's intensely hot and one of the workers, Juliana Maria, is more than happy to quit sweeping to have a chat.

Her most recent memories are painful ones. She recalls how bullets ripped through the walls of her home while she, her four children, and her blind husband scrambled to get out.

The pro-integrationist forces - frustrated at East Timor's vote for independence - chased her family and fellow villagers for nearly seven kilometres.

"They kept firing into the air, we just kept moving," says Juliana sadly.

Her lips tremble as she recalls how she had to lead her husband by the arm, the pair stumbling to get away as their world caved in.

The family sought shelter in the village of Dare, just outside Dili, and lived for three weeks on cassava and wild fruit. When they returned home they found their home looted - the family was left with nothing.

Distressed at the extent of the destruction in Dili, Juliana says she would have cleaned the streets on her own initiative if she had not found out about food for work. Now, thanks to the scheme, she can help restore her city and put rice on the family's table.

"If I was not part of this programme I would not be able to get rice from anywhere," she says.

Commenting on recent events, Juliana manages some optimism despite the desolation.

"I feel sad but I don't want revenge. I don't take it to heart. Things are going to get better now - we have our independence," she says triumphantly.

Currently the food for work scheme is in its infancy (true at Oct 20), operating in Dili's city centre and 21 of its suburbs. There are about 500 participants. Each participant is paid 3kg of rice for a four hour day.

World Vision programme officer Angel Theodora (Indonesian) says it's hoped to expand the scheme to 3,000 participants. Food for work inititiatives will move beyond street clearance to include the reconstruction of houses, clinics and schools.

Angel says for food for work schemes to be successful it's important the community set the priorities.

"We want all the ideas to come from the community. They tell us what they really need. The last thing we want to do is impose something on them which they don't want to participate in," she says.

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