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School Project in East Timor Brings Veterans Together

23 September 2019

New Zealand, Australian and Timorese military veterans are working together to bring educational opportunities to East Timorese youth in the town of Same.

Lieutenant Colonel Martin Dransfield, who was Commander of the New Zealand Second Battalion in 2000 and is now the Strategic Advisor to the Falantil-Forças de Defesa de Timor-Leste (F-FDTL), has been working with Australian Mick Jones and Falantil veteran Riak to build an English language school, called the Anzac English Language School, in Same (pronounced Sa-meh).

“Mick runs a veterans’ programme called Timor Awakening for mainly Australian former service personnel,” Lieutenant Colonel Dransfield said. “It gives them the opportunity to return to a theatre of operation and connect with the local community, as well as with their personal experience of military service.

“He asked if we could make the English language school an Australian and New Zealand project and I thought it was a fantastic opportunity.”

In July, Lieutenant Colonel Dransfield visited Same with retired New Zealand Army Sergeant Major Phil Burgess and met Riak, a Falantil commander during the Indonesian occupation. Riak has donated land for the English language school, which is also the site of a post-graduate university focussing on health education and engineering.

“A lot of Timorese veterans are now giving back to their communities and his dream is that the young Timorese get the opportunities that he didn’t have,” Lieutenant Colonel Dransfield said.

“Learning English gives young Timorese opportunities to go overseas and bring back skills to develop their country.”

Lieutenant Colonel Dransfield and Mr Burgess, along with Australian veterans, began by clearing the land of scrub and waste, then spent two days digging the foundations for the school.

“It was pretty tough to be honest but when you’re digging alongside Vietnam veterans there’s no way you can slack off,” Lieutenant Colonel Dransfield said.

“We had a Timorese civil engineer overseeing us, so it was a fantastic pulling together of our three countries.”

Now, just a couple of months later, the school is being officially opened.

“It demonstrates that when people work together for a common cause, anything can be achieved,” Lieutenant Colonel Dransfield said.

Riak’s aspiration for the Anzac English Language School is to encourage former service personnel to teach English there. Accommodation blocks have been built and there is a place overlooking the valley for quiet reflection and remembrance.

“Anyone who has served overseas in a capability-building role knows how rewarding it is. This project gives former service personnel a chance to continue that kind of work,” Lieutenant Colonel Dransfield said.

People interested in the project can contact Lieutenant Colonel Dransfield on


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