Timor-Leste: Jacinta de Sousa Pereira, ‘Superwoman’

Jacinta de Sousa Pereira, ‘Superwoman’ in Timor-Leste

Civil war, occupation, violent conflict – Timor-Leste’s road to independence was long and arduous. After decades of violence, Jacinta de Sousa Pereira would like to see people live together in peace in their fledgling democracy. In the television role of ‘Feto Fantastiku’, she shows viewers in Timor-Leste how they can resolve their disputes non-violently. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, GIZ is promoting peacebuilding measures in Timor-Leste where it has already trained around 800 people in mediation.

If someone asks you to describe Timor-Leste, what do you say?

Timor-Leste is a very small country with wonderful green landscapes. It is rich in culture and has countless traditions and languages. Sadly it is repeatedly afflicted by violence. When an argument breaks out, people do not talk to each other, but instead immediately start hitting each other. Domestic violence is a daily occurrence in Timor-Leste too, and it is children who suffer the most.

How do you get people to resolve their conflicts peacefully?

A lot of people, especially in rural areas, are unable to read or write. That’s why we put on plays and work with film material. People love it – and they really get talking to each other when we screen a typical conflict situation and I appear as FETO FANTASTIKU and sort everything out. But it gets them thinking and they resolve next time not to react violently but to engage in a civilised conversation.

So what’s it like being ‘FETO FANTASTIKU’?

People increasingly recognise me in the street. Children shout out ‘FETO FANTASTIKU’ when they see me – either that or the catchphrase from our broadcast: ‘Attack the problem, not the person!’ That’s really special. I notice that people not only recognise me, they also understand the message we are trying to get across.

What do you do in your free time?

I like to read, I go to the beach with my friends to escape from the tropical heat. But I like it best when I’m at home and the kids from the neighbourhood pop by. A lot of children in Timor-Leste are growing up in difficult conditions. They can rarely just be children. When they are with me they can recharge their batteries. That makes me really happy.

What does luxury mean for you?

My trip to Singapore to the international conference PROJECT INSPIRE 2013 was a luxury. Singapore is completely different to Dili. I was amazed at the enormous size of the buildings and the smart shops. But the real luxury was the recognition we got for our work from the conference participants. I was really proud. I knew we were on the right path.


        
    
Timor-Leste’s history is one of civil war and violence. Jacinta de Sousa Pereira is an early riser – as a peace activist, she has a full day ahead of her.
Timor-Leste’s history is one of civil war and violence. Jacinta de Sousa Pereira is an early riser – as a peace activist, she has a full day ahead of her.

        
    
Frontal instruction is rare, but sometimes it is the method of choice. Pereira heads workshops in which participants learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully.
Frontal instruction is rare, but sometimes it is the method of choice. Pereira heads workshops in which participants learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

        
    
Pereira is happiest when she can work closely with people. She analyses their respective situations and provides realistic advice. Photos: Sebastian Löffler
Pereira is happiest when she can work closely with people. She analyses their respective situations and provides realistic advice. Photos: Sebastian Löffler

        
    
A lot of people in rural areas around Timor-Leste are illiterate. Theatre is the best way to get a message across. Pereira and her group practice every day.
A lot of people in rural areas around Timor-Leste are illiterate. Theatre is the best way to get a message across. Pereira and her group practice every day.

        
    
Pereira and her team are now nationwide celebrities. Photo: Jacinta de Sousa Pereira.
Pereira and her team are now nationwide celebrities. Photo: Jacinta de Sousa Pereira.

        
    
Children are particularly close to Pereira’s heart. She often invites the neighbourhood children to her home to play and listen to stories.
Children are particularly close to Pereira’s heart. She often invites the neighbourhood children to her home to play and listen to stories.

        
    
Pereira never stops working. ‘Everywhere you look people are at loggerheads’, she says. ‘As a member of society, I listen and provide support through words and deeds.’
Pereira never stops working. ‘Everywhere you look people are at loggerheads’, she says. ‘As a member of society, I listen and provide support through words and deeds.’

        
    
The driver of the bus that takes Pereira home knows her from television. She has become the symbol for peaceful co-existence within the community.
The driver of the bus that takes Pereira home knows her from television. She has become the symbol for peaceful co-existence within the community.

        
    
Pereira in her working clothes. The ‘win-win solution’ is her favourite approach, as ultimately both sides in a conflict derive some benefit from the situation.
Pereira in her working clothes. The ‘win-win solution’ is her favourite approach, as ultimately both sides in a conflict derive some benefit from the situation.

        
    
José Ramos Hortas, the former president of Timor-Leste and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, is Prereira’s greatest role model. Photo: Jacinta de Sousa Pereira
José Ramos Hortas, the former president of Timor-Leste and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, is Prereira’s greatest role model. Photo: Jacinta de Sousa Pereira

        
    
Pereira met participants from all over the world at a conference in Singapore in 2012. Photo: Jacinta de Sousa Pereira
Pereira met participants from all over the world at a conference in Singapore in 2012. Photo: Jacinta de Sousa Pereira