Sunday, May 20, marks a milestone for members of the Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance. Not only does it mark the fifth anniversary of Timor's independence as a sovereign state on the southern edge of the Malay Archipelago, but it also marks the seventh riding of the Tour de Timor.
The annual bicycle ride around Lake Monona serves as a fundraiser for the sister city group and its affiliated Medical Aid for East Timor organization. The donations go to support aid programs in East Timor and to help finance visits by Madison delegations. Ainaro is a mountain town on the southern face of the island that's known for its coffee. In fact, beans grown in the district regularly make their way to Madison via the Café Timor Grower Cooperative, which is partnered with the near-east side roaster Just Coffee and the East Timor Action Network (ETAN).
It's the work of this latter organization that is the focus of this year's tour fundraiser. This spring, East Timor is conducting its first round of national elections since independence. A presidential run-off was held May 9, with the more significant parliamentary elections set for June 30. ETAN will be helping conduct election monitoring over this latter date, an important benchmark given the violence around the country over the last year. Funds raised in this year's Tour de Timor will be directed towards this project.
A Q&A with Madison-Ainaro Sister City organizer Diane Farsetta follows below.
The Daily Page: Why did you decide upon starting this ride as a fundraiser for the Sister City project?
Farsetta: The first "Tour de Timor" was held in 1999, before the Madison-Ainaro sister-city relationship had begun. That's when the Timorese were finally granted their right to self-determination -- to vote for or against independence. (Neighboring Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, with U.S. military and political support, resulting in the deaths of more than 100,000 people.)
To raise awareness and funds for medical aid, we here in Madison decided to hold a bike ride around Lake Monona. That may seem random, but we figured Madisonians like their bicycles!
We began to lay the groundwork for a sister-city relationship in 2000, and in 2001 we decided to hold another "Tour de Timor" ride, to raise funds for community projects in Ainaro.
How many people typically participate in Tour de Timor?
It's varied from a few dozen to more than 50 riders over the years. This year is the seventh annual "Tour de Timor" and is sure to be the coolest yet.
What will the election observers be doing in Ainaro? Who will be doing this?
Election observers will be talking to political parties, community groups and residents, and reporting on all aspects of the elections -- voter registration and lists, nonpartisan voter education, campaigning, the elections themselves, the vote counts and the aftermath.
Life hasn't been easy since independence. Over the past year, there have been intermittent bouts of violence, born out of poverty, desperation, a lack of justice and some political shenanigans. The violence has mostly occurred in the capital city, Dili, but the impact has been felt across the country.
Some people are questioning democracy or are afraid that the country's first nationwide elections since independence might end in violence. That's why Timorese groups asked the East Timor Action Network in the U.S. to organize an international election observer mission, and that's why we're supporting the Ainaro component of that mission.
What do the results in the recent presidential run-off election portend, particularly with regards to Ainaro?
The integrity of the process is more important than the results. Do people get the information that they need? Are they able to vote without fear or intimidation? Are the elections free and fair? If they are, do people accept the results?
The parliamentary elections (which will be held on June 30) will be more contentious, and have a greater impact, than the presidential run-off (which was held on May 9). In East Timor, the presidency is a mostly ceremonial position. It's the parliament, along with the prime minister, that really governs.
What other projects in Ainaro have previous Tour de Timor rides assisted? We've raised funds for:
- Ainaro's community radio station, "Lian Tatamailau" (meaning the voice of the local mountain)
- Women's income-generation projects and women-led adult literacy classes
- A reconstruction and vo/tech training project, "Centro Moris Foun" (meaning new life center)
- The Ainaro community center, which holds basic skills and health classes for children and young families.
What is your relationship with Just Coffee, and how does this impact the sistering?
We're mutually supportive solidarity efforts.
Just Coffee is very serious about developing relationships with coffee farmer collectives. Last year, Just Coffee organized a delegation to East Timor, where some of the world's best organic, shade-grown arabica coffee comes from. We helped Just Coffee make initial contacts in East Timor, and their delegation organizer, Colleen Coy, really took it from there. This year's delegation, in mid-July, will be focused on new fair trade initiatives.
We're thrilled that not only is another group building people-to-people relationships between Madison and East Timor, but it's a wonderful, thoughtful and well-informed group that really understands international solidarity.
How else is this sister city relationship impacting Madison?
It's widening our horizons, educating Madison about what's going on half-way around the world, and explaining why it matters.
The Madison-Ainaro sister-city relationship is our modest attempt at global justice. During the occupation of East Timor, the U.S. provided Indonesia with more than a billion dollars in military support. We're raising what we can to support Ainaro community projects that are working to address the ongoing economic, health and psychological impacts of that brutal occupation.
What is your message for Madison alders who regularly sponsor and vote for budget amendments to cut the city's funding for its sister cities' program?
Two words: Please stop! Really, sister cities get an infinitesimally small crumb of the city budget. Trying to cut that funding year after year is not about balancing the city budget, it's about political posturing. It's shortsighted, disrespectful of Madison's long and proud sister-city tradition, and dismissive of the cultural, educational and economic benefits that sister cities bring Madison.
Photos of previous Tour de Timor rides in 2006, 2005, and 2004 are also available online for viewing. The 2007 edition of the tour begins at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, kicking off at Law Park (at the intersection of John Nolen Drive, Willy and Blair streets) for the ride around Lake Monona. Interested participants can register here for the ride.