Timor-Leste Humanitarian Relief
Veterans Care Association is actively involved in providing support to the veterans and people of Timor-Leste, who were devastated by a flood and landslide catastrophe. Timor-Leste has been enduring an economic crisis, a major health crisis and a humanitarian crisis. Veterans care has raised considerable funds, approximately AU$130,000.00, that has provided emergency medical supplies, food, relief living support since the April 2021 Floods. From Apr to June 2021, A two-man team from VCA comprising Michael Stone and Mark Herewini deployed to Timor-Leste to provide medical and recovery support, mentoring, direct humanitarian relief and reporting. Throughout 2021 the CCLN (TL National Veterans Council) has conducted extensive consultation in coordination with communities and local authorities and providing tailored support to the poor, disabled, sick, malnourished. The consultation and detailed financial reporting can be seen in the reporting below. These reports include the stories of hundreds of families, amongst the thousands of families that have received practical support, hope and friendship. Your financial support to assist in the recovery effort is greatly appreciated. Reports are available on our Timor Awakening Facebook page.
We have closed the gofundme page, though remain committed to providing financial support to communities in need.
Direct donations can be made to VCA Timor-Leste Aid Account, BSB: 034-034 Account number: 376810
Update 23 September 2021. On 16 August 2021, largely thanks to monies raised by Energy Club Australia (AU$23,425.06), Veterans Care Association was able to send an additional relief tranche totalling $28,532.92 (US$20,100.00). Monies were received and accounted for by The Timorese National Veterans Council.
The council has done extensive consultation around Dili and sent through their national networks to each branch and sub branch to identify families in the most amount of need. The Council has helped 13 families already with minor rehabilitation of living conditions, fixing roofing, sanitation, fresh vegetables and fresh protein for these families. They are procuring nutritious locally grown vegetables, proteins, and purchasing variety of seeds to provide to malnourished families to empower them with ability to plant spring and summer crops to provide nutrition in a longer term, providing some self sufficiency, dignity and an ability to earn for other necessities such as medicines and clothes. We have responded to a request from the poor community surrounding our Veterans Training Centre in Dai Sula, Same to support another 53 families who have been identified of high risk malnutrition and poverty - $4000.00 has been donated to them to be spent in a similar way. Consultation and relief is ongoing daily, amidst the most dangerous Covid outbreak thus far in Timor-Leste with the Delta strain taking lives, 105 recorded thus far.
Timor-Leste is going through a silent famine. WFP states that 50% of the population is experiencing chronic malnutrition. Timor-Leste is currently ranked second worst in the world for stunted growth in infants, from birth to 5 years old.
WFP Country Brief Timor-Leste: https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000131158/download/?_ga=2.263007556.956388226.1631579773-1223181237.1631579773
Direct donations can be made to VCA Timor-Leste Aid Account, BSB: 034-034 Account number: 376810
Thank you for your support and compassion. Warm regards, Michael Stone
RSL QLD NEWS ARTICLE - JULY 2021
We talk about being shoulder to shoulder, always, and Queensland veterans Michael Stone and Mark Herewini have personified the mantra in their recent efforts supporting victims of Cyclone Seroja in East Timor. They have recently returned from a self-initiated, self-funded 2-month emergency relief operation planned and funded by a group of Australian Army veterans and supported by Veterans Care Association (VCA).
Michael says his initial reaction upon hearing the news of the natural disaster, the worst in Timor’s history, was to provide practical support, solidarity and hope to the people of Timor-Leste as quickly as possible. Immediately Michael started an awareness campaign, an online fundraiser and the beginnings of a very unique humanitarian response. “I deeply respect the debt of honour Australia has to the Timorese people who supported Australian soldiers in World War Two. Tens of thousands of Timorese gave their meagre food supplies, risked and gave their lives protecting our soldiers. The Timorese people were our wartime allies. We best honour their sacrifice through our actions and friendship, especially during an hour of need.’
The disaster struck Timor-Leste on the early hours of Easter Sunday, 4 April 2021, with nationwide flash flooding and landslides in the pitch black of night. Over 50 people are reported to have died, with over 44,000 households affected and thousands of families lost everything and completely displaced. Michael was staying with his parents celebrating Easter and was grateful to have his father Gary on hand for advice in yet another crisis. Michael, who served 20 years as an infantry officer spent eight years deployed overseas, mostly in East Timor. He recalled, “I reached out to a few close veteran mates who provided support in different ways, one said on the spot that he would fund a flight to get me and the first supplies there”.
”I invited a few veteran mates with less than 48 hour’s notice. Interfet Veteran, now paramedic, Mark Heriwini responded saying he was keen to join. We arranged clearance through the Queensland Ambulance Service and with support from the Timorese Embassy in Canberra, and many contacts in Timor-Leste, we got there.” “There were many challenges to get to Timor-Leste with the country in complete border lock down. I thought of my many friends in Timor-Leste and what they would do for any of us. I was also inspired by the story of the WW2 veterans who tried to get medical supplies to Timor when the Indonesians had invaded in 1975, when tens of thousands of Timorese were dying of starvation and lack of medical care.” “We had no return ticket, no insurance and knew very well the risks that we were walking into. Mark took his full annual leave of six weeks, though we both knew that this would be the minimum time we were likely to spend there.”
“Within a few days I had concentrated to Darwin and we’d been able to gather 700 kilos of medical supplies and prioritised them in consultation with doctors on the ground in Dili who advised what needed to go most urgently. Through an online crowdfunding appeal we raised and dispatched over $70,000 to Timor-Leste within a week. We were the first Australian relief plane to land in Dili after the crisis and the first physical humanitarian presence on the ground.”
They were able to transport over 70 boxes of critical medical and humanitarian supplies on the flight including basic things like Ventolin, asthma puffers, electrolytes, panadol, and insulin.
Michael and his father Gary are founders of Veterans Care Association and have had a deep and long-standing relationship with East Timor and the Timorese. “Veterans Care Association have been working in Timor since 2016 and we’ve had multiple aims. We’ve been running a rehabilitation programs for wounded, ill and injured Australian veterans called Timor Awakening. We have a holistic health focus rather than treatment focus, using peer support mentoring,” Gary says.
“We also wanted to inspire our Australian veterans via the examples of the Timorese veterans who fought against the Indonesian military for 24 years, with incredible resilience, and continue to serve their communities as leaders in different ways.”
“More Australian soldiers have served in Timor than in Afghanistan or Iraq, or any other operation since the Vietnam War. Indeed over 35,000 Australians soldiers, sailors and airmen have served in East Timor over the last 20 years.”
“Since we started we have done 12 programs in Timor. We fly into Dili, the capital, and we’re met by a group of Timorese war veterans, and we go on a joint program with them for about 13 days.”
“Timorese veterans don’t have support arrangements like what we’ve got here. So we’ve embraced their wounded, ill veterans, as we’ve taken our guys over there, and developed a strong relationship with them. We started an educational scholarship, funded by Australian veterans, which put around 50 Timorese through vocational training. In 2018, the Timorese veterans asked us to build a school to teach their next generations English, prepare them for development and liberate them from poverty. Over the last 24 months Michael put together a program, raised close to $200,000 and now a very large boarding school is built and operating on the remote south coast of Timor, near the town of Betano where the wreckage of the HMAS Voyager remains.”
“Along the way we’ve assisted develop a veterans association similar to the RSL.”
Gary says, “Many Australians haven’t heard about how dire the situation was in Timor. There’s no international reporters in East Timor. Since COVID, they’ve been in a lockdown situation and we’re just not getting reporting. Michael assumed the responsibility to seek out that information and get it to the world so that help could be channeled as quickly as possible to where it was needed. He knew the best way to do this was to have boots on the ground, so that’s what he did.” he says.
“Of course, the people in Timor, whilst they aren’t facing war anymore, are still living in poverty. There were landslides in all of the surrounding hills and a lot of people were in desperate straits.”
“They’re in the middle of a COVID crisis in Timor, and they had the courage to go over there. Michael and Mark weren’t sitting in an office directing things from a computer. They’ve been on the ground in dire conditions humping sacks of rice, conducting medical outreach clinics, traversing landslides, conducting emergency health training, public health education and digging mud out of people’s houses. They have been working tirelessly to encourage people and give them hope.” “So it is certainly above and beyond the call of duty, as it were, but that’s part of the Australian spirit, isn’t it? To help our neighbours in times of need.”
A MISSION OF HOPE
Michael, who recently returned home to Australia, said their work is far from over.
“It was an intense experience full of connection, community and compassion,” he says.
“The Timorese people are amazingly resilient human beings; however, the country’s economy has been crippled by COVID restrictions, malnutrition is rising, medical supplies and medicine is depleted.
“We will continue in our work to support and provide aid to our neighbours. Timor-Leste is a country that is a beacon of hope and together we can get through this.”
“Our primary mission was to provide essential aid and emotional support to the Timorese. We wanted to let them know that they were not forgotten,” Gary adds.
“It’s been a mission of hope, solidarity and togetherness. In fact, Mark, Michael and all of our team wear shirts with the word ‘Hamutuk’ on the back. It is a Timorese word for togetherness. We are in this together.”
“The Timorese are overjoyed that they’ve been given this help. There are thousands of people still homeless and there’s very limited international aid supporting their recovery. We’re continuing to raise money to help them through this time.”
“The people in Dili that lost their homes and properties, they’ve got nothing. There’s no money in the bank. There’s no social security system. They’re relying on extended family to share rice with them.”
During Michael’s first weeks on the ground, he describes seeing people boiling grass and leaves just to have something to eat. “There’s still so much more that needs to be done. The situation is getting worse rather than better as the people on the ground deal with multiple large-scale crises including soaring COVID rates.”
“We appeal to fellow Australians to advocate to our state and federal governments to provide support to Timor-Leste as best as possible. They’re in desperate need for a huge range of medical equipment, training and basic medicines as a starting point. Their economy has completely collapsed, with majority of Timorese currently unemployed. yet tens of thousands are trained and ready. There are over 10,000 trained and ready to support Australian seasonal worker program and Pacific labour scheme.”
A CONTINUING LIFE OF SERVICE
Gary, who spent 48 years in the Army after following in family footsteps, started his career as an infantry officer before becoming a chaplain. Gary is now President of Veterans Care Association. “Here in Australia we are a group of veterans who support veterans, but we also do it in Timor where we’re supporting the Timorese veterans.”
Michael agrees saying, “for us, it’s a question of honour, dignity and mateship. These are the things we espouse ourselves to be Australian. We hold our hands on our hearts and say that is what it means to be Australian. We can continue to serve and live out these values well beyond our military service, and indeed we should for our country and for our own health and peace of mind.”
While COVID has pressed pause on the team taking veterans to Timor for now, Gary said that Australian veterans can still enroll in one of their programs which are being run from Rainbow Bay on the Gold Coast in the interim.
“Our programs are called Timor Awakening and the awakening part refers to the knowledge that veterans can have a healthier life,” he says.
“Some veterans get stuck in a victim mentality and the awakening part of our program is them realising they can get healthier and find a positive life purpose after leaving service.”
“We find many of our veterans are those that have been medically discharged, and in a situation where they’re not able to find work after leaving the military. But we can help them find health, identity and purpose again.”
“Rediscovering identity and purpose is the veteran’s challenge, getting inspired and finding ways to be active and engaged instead of sitting on the couch. We’re not ex-servicemen, we’re serving in a different way now. We can continue to be of service to our community but with a different focus, purpose and identity.”
“It’s a case of finding the place where you can actually do that. The RSL offers enormous potential to do it and we wouldn’t have been able to provide our Timor Awakening programs without the support of RSL Queensland.”
THERE’S STILL TIME TO SUPPORT
Veterans Care is still raising much needed funds to support the recovery efforts in Timor. If you would like to donate to their efforts, visit their website. If you are interested in the Timor Awakening program or Veterans Education Scheme in Timor-Leste, you can find out more at: https://www.timorawakening.com.
Background of the 2021 Timor-Leste Crisis
On the 8Th of April, it was declared a state of calamity in Dili, from the result of heavy rains across the country from 29th March to 4th April and have resulted in flash floods and landslides affecting 13 municipalities in Timor-Leste to varying degrees, with the capital Dili and the surrounding low-lying areas the worst affected. To date, a total of 46 fatalities (including 10 missing, presumed dead) have been recorded in Dili (22), Ainaro (10), Aileu (1), Baucau (1), Covalima (2), Manatuto (6), and Viqueque (4), This figure could be higher, many are missing. All several humanitarian donors have provided additional humanitarian funding to support the flood response, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, and United States.
The latest official figures also indicate a total of 43 evacuation facilities in Dili municipality, where 12,378 people – or 3,010 households – are temporarily sheltered. Urgent needs in these evacuation facilities are WASH facilities, food and drinking water, non-food items, and medicine.
With the strict lockdown in Dili municipality temporarily suspended on 9 April in view of the ongoing flood response, as of 12 April, there are 525 active cases of COVID-19. The majority of the country is cut off, through bridges and roads being washed away as well as Covid 'fences'. Many health issues remain, including Covid, water-borne disease, malnutrition, and lack of accessible critical health care. The risk of further spread of COVID-19 remains high, an additional risk for first-line responders and a threat to community health.
On Ground Support
On the 12th of April Veterans Care Association program director, Michael Stone landed our privately funded charter flight to Dili with a plane full of medical supplies consisting of many boxes of vitamins, diarrhea treatment, oral solution, asthma medication, pain killers, cough medicine, and much more. Mark Herewini arrived a few days later, Michael and Mark are on the ground and have been working around the clock with the Timorese veterans, NGOs, and in support of the TL Govt. There is much to do be done and they will be doing their utmost to help the most vulnerable and isolated.
Veterans care is continually raising money to purchase food, basic supplies, and temporary shelter for those affected by the devastating floods and landslides in Timor-Leste. Over 8000 people are reported to have been left homeless, without food, medical supplies, shelter, clothing and are extremely vulnerable Religious organisations, Government buildings, schools are being used to house them. . More than 25,000 households have experienced flood damage and being filled with meters of mud and silt. The government is providing humanitarian assistance to those affected, with the support of the community and NGOs.
This disaster is unprecedented, the worst flooding in memory.
Cash is being distributed through the Veterans Care Association direct to Australia/Timor-Leste Veterans Friendship Association, controlled by our most trusted friends amongst the most senior Timor-Leste Veterans. We have successfully completed many projects together with our brothers and sisters from the Timorese veteran community - we can act fast and have the trust, relationships, and support of local authorities and organizations providing support, such as church missions.
Between the GoFundMe donations, private donations, and Veterans Care Association donation, we have sent over AU$70,000.00 to provide immediate relief and aid to our brothers and sisters in Timor-Leste.
US$50,000 has been received and put immediately into action in Timor-Leste, as promised. There have been no overheads, no delays (we have worked hard to get this money to the ground fast - thank you VCA volunteers!).
In the first tranche of money that was dispatched last week, US$10,000 was immediately donated to SABEH, the largest local NGO providing first-line health care to the community, with 125 volunteer Timorese Doctors and Nurses, and many more supporting them (http://saudebaemahotu.org/, https://web.facebook.com/Saudebaemahotu). Dr. Andre Pereira Belo is eternally grateful and looks forward to sending a special letter of thanks with photos of the work they are doing.
The Timorese Council for Combatants of the Liberation (CCLN) and the wider Timorese veteran community have made public announcements of the donations received and their thanks to you for your compassion and generosity. Last week, despite many of them losing everything themselves in the floods, they gathered what they could, put in personal money, and were out in the community helping the vulnerable. In the last two days, with the first tranche of US$20,000.00, money donated in this fundraiser, they have supported 498 households, with items such as Tarpaulin, Sacks of Rice, Cooking Oil, Chairs, Noodles, eating utensils, eating plates and bowls, Clothes, washing powder, Soap, Toothpaste, sleeping mat, Sheets, Pillows, Toothbrush, Washing buckets, Shampoo. They have done so in a systematic, fair, and orderly way recording the details of all goods purchased and recipient families. The work continues.
Quick Facts Compiled by the UN
13 Municipalities affected (out of 13 municipalities)
25,022 Total affected households across the country
4,384 Houses destroyed or damaged across the country
43 Evacuation facilities in Dili
See the full UN Situation Report released today:
Any support you can provide will assist us, all donations above $2 are tax-deductible and the receipt is provided immediately via email. No donation is too small.