Rostiana Bareto, 49, experienced tough living conditions as a refugee when she and her family settled in Atambua, western Timor, on the border with Indonesia. Despite the fundamental challenge of making ends meet, she and her husband decided to stay and avoid the political instability back home.
More than 250,000 people fled Timor Leste or were forcibly transferred west following violence that escalated around an independence referendum, Aug. 30, 1999. The initial attacks on civilians by anti-independence militants expanded to general violence throughout the country.
Many returned to Timor Leste after the declaration of independence in 2002. But some 100,000 people chose to continue their lives in East Nusa Tenggara province, including 60,000 people in Belu regency.
Since her arrival, Bareto, now widowed, has not received any assistance from the government, causing great frustration for her family and many others living in similar conditions.
Their lives began to change when they met Holy Spirit Sister Sesilia Ketut, 59. Seven years ago the nun gave Bareto some money to start her own cloth-weaving business. Working in a group of widows she learned to weave and cook, and make bags, rosaries, flowers and wallets, which were then sold to markets.
“Every day our job was weaving and we never stopped, although the products were sold at a cheap price,” said the mother of six.
Now, more than 300 widows — whose husbands either died before or after the 1999 conflict — are receiving help from the nun.