|Ten years after Timor-Leste became an independent state, new schools are built every week and more students are going to school than ever before.|
After hundreds of years of being a colony, in 1999 the United Nations administered a popular consultation, which allowed the people of Timor-Leste to decide in a referendum whether they wanted to become an independent state. I was 15 years old when the referendum took place. Just a few weeks before the consultation day, my family dropped me off on the island of Flores to attend high school. I remember clearly that as I waited on the dock of the ferry that took me away from the capital city of Dili, I prayed for peace to my country. I swore only to return after my country found its final freedom from colonization.
On the morning of August 30, 1999, I sat in my literature class listening to my teacher and other classmates discussing Timor-Leste and its future. My classmates asked my teacher why the Timorese wanted independence. My teacher looked at me and asked, “What do your parents think of this referendum? Do they also want Timor-Leste to become independent?” Fearing for the safety of my family and myself, I looked away and said that I had no idea where my parents stood on this issue. My heart ached to scream “Viva Timor Leste!” – but I knew full well that it would be asking for trouble to do that. That evening, sitting in front of TV, along with my other flat mates, we watched how the Timorese were dressed up early in the morning to go to the polling place. Many were dancing “dahur”, a Timorese traditional dance, as the long awaited day had finally arrived.