Syamsul Bahari

Place of origin: Viqueque

I was born in 1979. My father worked for an Indonesian soldier as a helper, TBO, for five years until 1983 when he was killed by the Indonesian military.
Soon after my father died I met Alex Freitas Haryanto (Lukman) who he told me about the free education with Yakin institution in Dili. My mother agreed that I could go with Alex to Dili. Alex also took a group of children from our village. I was in the fifth class in elementary school. It was not long after my younger brother was born. While at school in Dili I decided to become a Muslim.

Sent to Bandung

One year later, in 1988, Yakin sent me with a group of 32 children to Bandung. The Bandung branch of the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars, Majelis Ulama Indonesia, helped find places for us to live in the area. They asked child care institutions (panti asuhan) and Islamic boarding schools, pesantren, if they could take in a few students. We went to live in various places around Bandung and West Java.

I sent letters to my family only at Lebaran, the feast at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. We received a small amount of pocket money which I saved. In 1990 my mother died. I had saved enough money to travel home and I brought my four-year-old brother back to Bandung. He lived with me in the pesantren. Most of the other East Timorese children spent their money immediately, so they were never able to return home.

Student association – working together to support themselves

In Bandung we formed the Association of East Timorese Islamic University and School Students, Ikatan Pelajar Mahasiswa Islam Timor Timur, in the mid-1990s.We met together to try to help each other with the small resources we had. All the Muslim East Timorese students living around West Java gathered together in Bandung at Lebaran to celebrate together. This was how we kept in contact with each other.

Students who had problems in other places also came to Bandung because we were a strong group of students. Often they had run away from their institution. Many students came there from East Java, for example. The older students tried to help the new arrivals and those who were having problems. Many students suffered from stress because they had been separated for such a long time from their families. In the mid-1990s I telephoned Yakin in Dili and asked them to come and see our situation and do something to help. Some of the children desperately wanted to go home. But Yakin did not respond. Our student group tried to find placements for the students who came there. We contacted pesantren and child care institutions ourselves and asked if they could take students. Institutions in Sukabumi, Ciamis, Tasikmalaya, Cianjur, Purwokerto, Cirebon, Majalengka, Sumedang, Bogor, Banten and Bandung agreed to take East Timorese students, usually about four or five each. The care and education was free.

 Syamsul was unable to complete his study before he returned to East Timor in 1999 to help with preparations for the referendum. He worked for Unamet, the UN body responsible for organizing the referendum, in Uatolari, Viqueque. His younger brother returned to East Timor in 2003.  In 2004 Syamsul was living in Bauca, involved in an inter-religious dialogue group and working in radio.

The mosque there was burnt in 2001 but the Malaysian government helped to rebuild it.