In 1999 Sarah Mac Donald went to East Timor to report on a country on the verge of independence. While she was there, she became godmother to a local boy, amid rising violence and intimidation. 20yrs later, Sarah returns to find her godson (2020)
In 1999, the tiny half-island state of East Timor was engulfed by violence as the Timorese people prepared to vote for independence from their mighty neighbour Indonesia. Over the 24 years of Indonesia's brutal occupation of this small tropical territory off northern Australia, 200,000 Timorese lost their lives – it was 'Genocide in Paradise’.
Against the backdrop of the Liquiçá Church massacre in 1999, in which 200 men, women and children were killed, Sarah Mac Donald became a godmother for the first time. "My godson Natalizio Imanuel de Jesus Soares was just a few months old and despite the fear, poverty, ill health and violence which greeted his arrival in this world, hopes ran high that he would grow up in an independent and free East Timor – something the Timorese had not seen since the Portuguese invaded at the end of the 16th century."
‘Timor Leste: Coming of Age’ retraces the journey Sarah made in 1999 as she sets out to re-find her godson Natalizio and discover how his young life has mirrored East Timor’s hopes, dreams ... and disappointments.
Along the way, she meets Dubliner Tom Hyland who now lives in the Timorese capital, Dili.
She also meets up with Dino Gandara, who lived in Dublin in the 1990s and the early 2000s and studied in TCD. Dino explains how his family played a huge price for its role in the resistance movement and the fight for independence. He helps her track down one of the five Timorese guerrilla fighters she met at a secret hideaway in March 1999.
Though Timor Leste has been independent for almost 20 years, sectors such as health and education have suffered the effects of the State’s failure to invest in them. The Government has been so focused on financing oil and Gas infrastructure, it has imposed austerity in these essential areas.
At the Bairo Pite Clinic in Dili she sees first-hand the cost of this policy. Founded in 1999 by Dan Murphy, an Irish American doctor, whom Sarah had met in 1999, she learns he is struggling to pay his staff. The future of this 55-bed facility now hangs in the balance.
This is a personal journey which picks up the threads of a story which began in 1999. Personal friendships were formed in ‘the year of living dangerously’ but on account of the conflict, geographical distance and other challenges, those friendships could only be renewed again in 2019.
Produced by Sarah Mac Donald and Tim Desmond and Supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund.
First broadcast, Saturday 3rd October RTÉ Radio1 @2:00pm, repeat Sunday 4th October @7:00pm
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries