In Timor, Nonviolence Work Stands Up to Real-Life Test

In troubled countries like East Timor, the threat of violence is always present. Catholic Relief Services staff in Timor have worked for years to reconcile opposing groups, provide activities to counteract the country’s high unemployment rate, and promote peace.

Recently, CRS and its partner the Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission of Dili, were teaching peacebuilding techniques to young people and gang members in a volatile neighborhood called Sao Jose Aimetilaran, part of the capital city of Dili. Liliana Amaral, technical advisor for CRS’ peace programs, describes what happened next:

“A drunken young man came in holding a knife in his right hand and a machete in his left hand. He cut the wall with his machete. He ran into our session room and went straight to where the facilitators stand—where the flipchart is. He said, ‘I am a tiger looking for my prey.’”

“Some of the participants panicked and ran out of the room. My reaction was to keep silent–others followed my action. I tried to look at him when he came straight at us. The flipchart stand was the only divider between him and us.

“He stopped at the flipchart and drove his sharp knife into the flipchart paper. He wrote, ‘I am a tiger’ on it, and then ran out of the room, using his machete to stab our program banner, which had a logo saying ‘Justice and Peace.’ He ran out to the street and disappeared.

“Our CRS team informed the community chief about this. The chief spoke to the young man, and later that day, the young man went to a community organizer we work with to say sorry and admit his fault.

“The next day, in the morning, he came to our training place, admitted his bad attitude and apologized to the team and the participants. He said he lost control because he was drunk; we had a long conversation with him.

“The young man had been drinking since he was in high school. He wanted to go to college but couldn’t because of the money. He had no activity to join, no job—not even a construction job. He has 12 siblings and his father has no job. They don’t even have a garden where they can grow vegetables. These problems made it easy for him to get drunk on local wine—it’s a way to express his frustration.

Timor dance

in East Timor, young people perform a traditional dance as part of a CRS peace and reconciliation program. Photo by CRS staff

“Our conversation took three hours. He strongly stated that he will change and stop drinking. He came to our training session to participate, and also participated in one of our CRS activities–a big event, the traditional dance competition.

“I felt happy when he came in to see me and when recognized that what he did was wrong. All the participants reflected that it was a real example of how to react to violence without using violence. It’s one of our Active Non Violence (ANV) methods: Be patient and dialogue, but first control your emotions and calm yourself.

“Basically, we were lucky because our staff knows how to control their emotions and influence others not to meet violence with violence. We recognize that we are part of the community and the young man is too. We have to work things out.”

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