Timor Awakens by Kylie Hatfield

“Timor-Leste is a country that is peaceful, unexplored, rich in culture and a significant shared history with the Australian Military. It’s a country full of veterans and civilians that have suffered unimaginable atrocities, hardship, trauma and oppression; a people who have exhibited incredible resilience, reconciled with their foes and are moving forward,” described Michael Stone of Veterans Care.

“We can be very proud of our military intervention since INTERFET, and we are honoured to provide our veterans the opportunity to be inspired from the healing and rehabilitation the Timorese veterans provide us; to move forward with hope and purpose.”

Timor Awakening is much more than an 11-day experience through East Timor. As veterans found on the two tours conducted this year, it is an opportunity to heal from the emotional and mental wounds of their service. The tour through eight Districts enables veterans to see first-hand how far the communities impacted by war have come following the restoration of peace, in part thanks to Australia’s Defence personnel.

Timorese-Veteran.jpgLast surviving Timorese who was forced labour to dig the Japanese Munitions Storage and air raid shelter tunnels south of Baucau. Image Source: RSL News

Timorese veterans from the resistance and Timorese Army join with the Australian veterans and share their stories to gain a deeper understanding of the people. But the program doesn’t end when the adventure does.

Veterans who participate in the program will be supported before, during and after the adventure, with staff from Veterans Care preparing veterans for the trip, attending the tour, and providing on-going support to the veterans when they return. The benefits of this experience are already being felt by veterans who participated in the pilot programs this.

Veteran Nicholas Hodge served on deployment to East Timor in 1999 and again in 2001, and found the Timor Awakening experience to be healing and relieving of a lot of the pressure felt from anxiety and depression.

“My first experience when we got off the plane in Timor was, ‘wow, the country is clean and doesn’t smell of smoke – unlike the last two times I was there with the Army,” said Nicholas.

“We were welcomed with a traditional Timor-Leste ceremony and it stirred pride in me, knowing that all the effort we put in as Soldiers now meant something; that our contribution to this country had led to a self-sustaining, self-generating, secure country.”

Wendy-Taylor.jpgVeteran and RSL District President Wendy Taylor recieves a Timorese Tais during a traditional welcome to Balibo.
Image Source: RSL News

The highlight of the experience for Nicholas was being able to shake hands with an Indonesian Soldier at the border of Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

“This time (I was there) not as an Infantry Soldier but as a Veteran seeking to make amends with an adversary,” said Nicholas.

“I let go and forgave the Indonesians for what awful acts they had committed against the people of Timor-Leste. My growth as a Veteran had exceeded my expectations of the Timor Awakening experience.”

Nicholas is just one veteran who has benefited from Timor Awakening, and it is for this reason that RSL Queensland was proud to support the program in 2016.

Michael-Stone-(1).jpgTimor Awakening staff and Veterans Michael Stone and Kirsten playing and singing with school children of the Balibo 5 Primary School.
Image Source: RSL News

Veterans Care Association aims to empower veterans to support other veterans and their families by giving practical, direct support to wounded, injured and ill veterans. Acting as a hub, Veterans Care Association brings together traditional medical, complimentary and holistic practitioners, therapists, counsellors, chaplains and more to support the journey to good health and vitality. Find out more about Veterans Care Association: www.veteranscare.com.au.

This article was written by Kylie Hatfield for RSL News. It first appeared on the RSLQLD website. You can read the origianl article here: http://www.rslqld.org/RSLOutpost/RSL-Outpost/Our-Mates/Timor-Awakens

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