09 March 2009 By Stephen Kaufman Staff Writer Washington In its nearly seven years of independence from Indonesia, Timor-Leste has enjoyed little peace. With 75 percent of its population under the age of 26 and few job opportunities, the nation is home to disaffected young people who could turn to violence. One troubled neighborhood in the capital city of Dili thinks sports may provide a solution.
The Bairo Pite recreation facility and peace monument was inaugurated in August 2008 after the residents of the neighborhood joined together with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to create a venue for sports activities and provide a space for youth to congregate away from the gangs that dominate the community.
“Gang boundaries bisect parts of Bairo Pite, leading to tension between various supporters and, often, civil unrest,” Noemia Amaral told America.gov. Amaral is the sports complex project manager for the Community Activities for Local Mitigation, Empowerment and Reintegration (CALMER), a program run by the nongovernmental organization CARE.
After a wave of civil unrest hit Dili in April and May 2006, local martial arts and ritual arts gangs subjected Bairo Pite to waves of intercommunal and intracommunal violence. At the same time, the area struggled to absorb internally displaced persons (IDPs). National and international security forces were not able to restore order until late 2007.
“We witnessed the displacement of more than 150,000 people in Dili, the distribution of weapons to the community and the deaths of soldiers, unarmed police and civilians,” Amaral said. “News footage reported youth gangs rioting, throwing rocks and burning houses as international peacekeeping forces were called in.”
After calm was restored and residents assessed the damage to their area, neighbors in four of Bairo Pite’s aldeias, or subvillages, that had hosted rival gangs decided jointly to rebuild a destroyed sports facility to address the needs of the youth and encourage their engagement in positive activities.
The goal, Amaral said, was to demonstrate that “through the reduction of violence in that area … youth and children of four aldeias can play together in the afternoon.”
CARE and local NGO Forum Tau Matan, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, worked with the four aldeias to mobilize the community to build the complex. The joint participation sent a message of community solidarity, and the work allowed residents to improve their construction skills in a troubled job market.
“Youth members in different aldeias worked on it in turn, and then after a month, the destroyed court was rehabilitated with construction of a peace monument,” Amaral said. The monument commemorates the victims of the 2006 crisis and promotes a return to peace, unity and stability.
Now, instead of joining rival gangs and targeting each other with violence, young people are squaring off in friendly football, basketball and volleyball matches, or even forming mixed aldeia teams.
The facility also hosts meetings for the youth and the community on mutual security, development and the reintegration of the IDPs in the area.
Amaral said CALMER next plans to set up a sports council to help establish competitive leagues in Bairo Pite as the community continues its efforts to provide an alternative to gangs for its young people.
The Bairo Pite recreation facility and peace monument is one of many community-based efforts around the world promoting peaceful interaction and offering alternatives to violence.
Image added by ETLJB: Gang violence in Dili, East Timor.
See further The Regulation of Martial Arts in East Timor: An Overview of Law No 10 of 2008 on the practice of martial arts