Paulina Quintao – Women's activist and survivor Maria Domingas "Micato" Alves has encouraged other survivors of past crimes to be active and creative in contributing to the national development process.
She said survivors had managed to save themselves in difficult situations, including floods, earthquakes and crime.
"In the past I cried, but now after independence I don't want to cry anymore. I found a job, I studies and learned how to fulfill democracy and development," she said at a national survivors' conference at Joao Paulo II in Comoro, Dili.
"Many people died for independence, therefore those who survived should not ask for help, but use their 10 fingers to work, use their brain to think and learn to be good and responsible citizens," she said.
Many Timorese were killed and also experienced sexual violence and torture during Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999.
Alves called for the civil societies not to mix past and present survivors (of violence) because the past survivors had a clear objective to gain independence, which has been recognized by the state.
During the struggle for independence, she said all people, both men and women, experienced some form of torture and violence, but the violence faced by women was different. "This was something different which affected women's dignity, it was sexual violence," she said.
Although female widows now receive $253 monthly from the government, Alves said this doesn't change the fact that their husbands died for independence. Therefore, she considers female survivors as heroines because of their contribution to the struggle for independence.
Meanwhile, Craras survivor Beatriz Miranda said Chega ba Ita (ACBIT) and Timor-Leste Women's Communication Forum (FOKUPERS) have provided training to female survivors on leadership and management skills.
Women's groups also receive funds from both organizations to run their activities. "We weave tais and baskets, make chips and raise animals like pigs and chickens in our sukus (villages)," she said.
She said they sold their products at the local market and at exhibitions held by women's organizations in Dili. She said the money they made was used for developing their groups and to sustain their families.
FOKUPERS Director Marilia Alves said the training provided was to help survivors transform their lives. "It (training) is about advocacy [and] leadership so they can be brave and share their inspiration [with other women]," she said.
She also acknowledged that there was still stigma and discrimination in society against survivors of past crimes and some still experience trauma because of their experiences.