Five students from East Timor talked last week about their experiences in Hawaii and how they are learning how to improve life in their homeland. From left are Marcelina Turquel, Lisete Quintao, Krispin Fernandes, Carlos dos Reis and Jose Ximenes.

E. Timorese plan
to better home

Conservation and education
are on the radar for the
East-West Center students

By Genevieve A. Suzuki

Five East-West Center graduate students did not have time to celebrate the third anniversary of East Timor's independence. But they did put aside their studies just enough to "celebrate in our hearts and minds," said Jose Ximenes.

They are excited to return to East Timor with what they are learning in Hawaii, said Ximenes, the first of the students to come here, who will return in May with his master's degree.

The students came here to learn how to improve life in East Timor, attending on scholarships funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. They must work in East Timor for at least two years once they receive their master's degrees, under the terms of the scholarships.

East Timor won independence from Indonesia on Aug. 30, 1999. When the Indonesian military vacated the tiny country, it also left behind mass destruction, the students said.

Preserving the environment is important to Carlos dos Reis, an agricultural engineering student. Dos Reis said he would like to instill in East Timor Hawaii's penchant for nature conservancy.

"Things are really organized well here, including the traffic," said dos Reis, 29. "And there's nobody throwing rubbish on the road."

He added: "People don't burn forests like East Timor. In the summer they just burn the grass and destroy the plants. It's not good for conservation. I think that's one of the good things we can introduce to the people."

Marcelina Turquel, a master's of business administration candidate, said she admires Hawaii's diversity.

"This is a center for people meeting from East to West," Turquel said. "I think I can absorb the positive things here and apply them to my country."

East Timor could be a tourist destination, Turquel said.

"Our country is beautiful," she said. "When I came to Hawaii, I saw that Hawaii was beautiful, but East Timor is also beautiful like Hawaii."

Ximenes, 34, said he plans to advocate making education more accessible to the East Timorese. "I want to work on making it more practical than theoretical," Ximenes said.

Turquel, 30, also wants to improve her country's views on education. She said she wants to teach women in East Timor that, like their male counterparts, higher education is in their reach. "I want to be well educated so that I can transfer the knowledge that I know to women in East Timor," Turquel said. "I know it is really difficult, but I'll try the best that I can."

East Timorese need to be more aware of their basic human rights, said Lisete Quintao, a 29-year-old public defender with the East Timorese Department of Justice. Quintao is working for her master's degree in public administration.

"The law system (in the United States) is very good. Everyone has a basic knowledge," Quintao said.

The shock of the fight for independence still has not worn off.

"During the struggle, we didn't have anything because they took or they burned. They left people there with nothing," Quintao said. "They did everything they could to make our country miserable."

Dos Reis lost his 25-year-old brother one night when the Indonesian military knocked on the door. "We don't know where he is," dos Reis said. "We were told to be quiet and that if we made a noise, they would shoot us all."

His brother was training to become a teacher and made a comment about his teacher, who reported him to the Indonesian military.

"We started again, building something, when the United Nations started their work three years ago," Quintao said.

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