On the ground for peace in Timor-Leste
Izabela Pereira is seeing economic growth and stability return to Timor-Leste. Photo courtesy of Izabela Pereira
Izabela Pereira has seen a dramatic change in the lives of people in the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste since she arrived there in April 2008 as a democratic governance officer with the United Nations Integrated Mission.
"I came just after the attempt that almost killed the president," said Pereira, who studied as a 2005-07 Rotary World Peace Fellow at Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. "I remember the more than 60 internal displaced-persons camps all over the [capital] city. There are no camps anymore in Dili."
Pereira, one of more than 100 peace fellows attending the second Rotary World Peace Symposium in Birmingham, England, 18-19 June, monitors the country's main government institutions and advises on how they can operate democratically to best serve the people.
Her experience as a peace fellow prepared her for the work. During her fellowship, she served as an electoral observer with missions through the Organization of American States in Colombia and Nicaragua. While in Nicaragua in 2006, she saw former combatants join together to achieve a common objective.
"They demanded the same rights and denounced the same injustices," Pereira says. "It was an honor to participate in this historic moment of a nation, where the Nicaraguan people built their democracy in the wake of many civil wars and shocking poverty."
Pereira also explored conflict-prevention strategies in Senegal with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and observed the country's 2007 national election.
"The regional director of UNIFEM liked my contributions and sent me on a UN peace-building mission for women in Côte d'Ivoire," Pereira says. "I helped raise awareness of the need for women to participate in building peace and suggested strategies to coordinate women's organizations to achieve a united movement."
Today in Timor-Leste, Pereira sees the toll exacted by decades of conflict, with much work remaining to be done in rebuilding the country's infrastructure, increasing its literacy rate, and providing jobs. But she is thankful for the opportunity to help and "for the outstanding support of The Rotary Foundation, which has opened so many doors of opportunity," she says.
"Timor-Leste is only seven years old. Where else could I literally assist in building a country?"