Helena Ferro de Gouveia traveled to Dili, Timor-Leste to conduct a two-week workshop on conflict-sensitive reporting. While there, she experienced firsthand what independence means to a country scarred by conflict.
Timorese dancers perform in a parade to showcase the country's artistic expression and to celebrate freedom. The sun burns on my skin as I stand on the Dili beachfront. This is where the country declared freedom from Indonesia exactly 11 years ago, on May 20, 2002. The city is decked out in flags and colors to celebrate the Restoration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
This small nation uses the word "restoration" because the country originally declared independence from Portugal on November 28, 1975. Nine days later, however, Indonesia invaded and then occupied the country for almost 25 years. But the people of Timor-Leste continued to strive for independence and in 2002 the world recognized Timor-Leste as the first democratic nation of the 21st century.
The path to independence for this tiny island, located at the end of the Lesser Sunda Islands chain in the Pacific Ocean, has been paved with violent conflict. And 11 years later, freedom does not always mean peace. While the task of reconstruction has been made easier by the nation's large reserves of oil and gas, nearly half the population of 1.1 million still lives in poverty and corruption is widespread.
Political violence has also been a factor, with widespread unrest in 2006 and the attempted assassinations of the president and prime minister in a 2008 failed coup. Tens of thousands were displaced following the 2006 crisis and the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste - with some 3,000 military, police and civilian personnel - was established to restore order. Though the country continues to face many hurdles, after several years of stability the UN withdrew its presence at the end of last year.
Media professionals in Timor-Leste share this common experience of conflict. However, the dozens of internationally funded peace building programs over the years have seldom improved the direct link between media and conflict. And addressing the issue of conflict-sensitive reporting plays a key role in a post-conflict environment.
"Goodbye Conflict, Hello Development" has been the government's slogan for several years and Timor-Leste now has one of the world's fastest growing economies. But following my stay in Dili, I see that while the country is currently stable there are so many challenges it still needs to meet.
Helena Ferro de Gouveia is a Portuguese journalist, and a project manager and media trainer with DW Akademie. In May 2013 she traveled to Dili for a two-week workshop for TV and radio journalists on Conflict Sensitive Journalism, one of her specialty areas. Helena has taught several workshops in Timor-Leste over the past few years and has extensive training experience in other Portuguese-speaking countries, including Brazil, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique.