East Timor

The most recent eruption of crisis in the small Asian nation of East Timor presented teachers with an all-too-familiar challenge. Suddenly the news was filled with horrific images of death and terror. The lives of tens of thousands of people were shattered and threatened as a distant land was thrust from seeming obscurity into bloody headlines.

Teachers know that crises like these pose multiple challenges. To ignore them is to reinforce some of the most irresponsible tendencies of U.S. education. But to address them thoughtfully and responsibly is a daunting task for overextended and, at times, unprepared educators.

The web can be an invaluable tool in such circumstances – if one looks in the right places. This often means bypassing mainstream sources of news information.

For example, to find student-friendly material about the Timor crisis, I recently visited the “Time for Kids” web site (http://www.pathfinder.com/TFK).While Time was offering kids a prominent feature about the charitable contributions of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, my inquiry about the Timor crisis was met with: “There are no matches for East Timor. Please modify your search.”

I modified my search by looking elsewhere. Z magazine’s ZNET, (http://www.zmag.org) had extensive current and background info about the situation, including a detailed question and answer page, prepared by Noam Chomsky and others, about East Timor’s history and U.S. and U.N. involvement. (http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Timor/qanda.htm)

The East Timor Action Network (http://www.etan.org) also had extensive background and current info. News and biographies of leaders of the East Timor resistance movement can be found at http://www.easttimor.com/leaders/leaders.htm. At Mother Jones (http://www.motherjones.com/east_timor) you can sign up for e-mail news bulletins on the changing situation.

An important part of helping students respond to any humanitarian crisis is finding positive avenues for action. At Grassroots On-Line (http://www.grassrootsonline.org/) you can find details about legislative campaigns, human rights alerts, and material aid projects that offer a variety of activist options. Another page on the ETAN site (http://www.etan.org/etan/localgrp.htm) offers a list of local groups working on East Timor’s political and human rights issues including email addresses that students can use for inquiries.

There are even a few resources appropriate for young children. At http://www.uc.pt/Timor/lendas.htm, you can find myths and legends from East Timor cultural heritage, including “The crocodile that became Timor.” Photographer James Schmid also has made some beautiful and interesting photos of East Timor’s life, culture and political struggles available (http://etan.org/etanphoto/photos98.htm). One caution: While the photos viewed at this last site were of demonstrations, work places, family and village life, other East Timor photo sites include graphic photos of torture and atrocities. Photo sites should be screened before directing students to them.

Fall 1999