Building a culture of peace after 500 years of colonization

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  • April 13, 2011
Sr. Clare Garcillano was in Toronto in early April to tell the story of the Justice and Peace Commission in East Timor. The commission is one of Development and Peace’s international partners. (Photo by Vanessa Santilli)TORONTO - By giving a voice to the voiceless, Sr. Clare Garcillano is helping build a culture of peace, gender equality and solidarity in East Timor as acting director of the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC).

On April 4, Garcillano, a missionary sister with the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, told the commission’s story, delivering a talk at the Paulist Centre in Toronto.

Visiting Canada at the invitation of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, which has partnered with the JPC, Garcillano has been working and living in East Timor for the last five years. East Timor only gained independence in 2002 after 500 years of colonization and foreign occupation, first by Portugal and then by neighbouring Indonesia. The small island nation is 96.5 per cent Catholic.

The JPC was established in 1995 by Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo in the diocese of Dili with the support of Development and Peace, as a result of a conversation between the bishop and Jess Agustin, regional director of Development and Peace in Asia. It was created solely to promote the rights and dignity of every person and was set up at a time when human rights abuses were rampant as a result of the Indonesian occupation.

“It became the voice for the voiceless and the only commission that could document, mediate and advocate for the Timorese on justice and human rights issues at that time,” said Garcillano, a native of the Phillipines.

The commission runs three different programs: a human rights and legal aid program, a youth development program and a peace education program.

Six parishes in the diocese of Dili now have a human rights desk, said Garcillano. The desks each have one man and one woman, as they want to maintain gender equality.

“They are very conscious now of equality of man and woman because before, women had no voice at all,” said Garcillano.

The human rights desks welcome people who have problems with legal rights violations, domestic violence and people who don’t know where to go when they’re abused, said Garcillano. And it’s helping a lot of people, she said.

“That is where we discovered that domestic violence is rampant in the homes,” said Garcillano.

The JPC is also running children’s rights training workshops so that their citizens know what their rights are from a young age. To supplement these, they run workshops for the parents as well.

The youth development program aims to give youth the resources and skills to become more productive members of society. There are many unemployed youth between the ages of 17 and 28, said Garcillano.

“They have no education and they were traumatized,” she said. “They have a feeling of insufficiency and they just wait for help. And no one is trying to help them so we focus on them.”

The current program’s focus offers the young people leadership training and ultimately encourages them to make a project proposal for a small business.

They provide them computer classes, English courses and music lessons.

“The youth just have to be given a chance,” she said.

In 2006, the JPC worked with gangs, formed as a result of the various conflicts in East Timor. They gave the youth training in non-violence, dialogue and mediation.

“Fortunately, after two years of working with them, they were calmed down from their violent reactions and now some of them are peace advocates.” Some are working in East Timor while others have gone abroad for work, she said.

Call to Service:

A Catholic Register Special Section


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