|On 24 June 2008, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Jackie Chan (foreground, right) greets children at the UN compound in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. Behind him is UNICEF Representative in Timor-Leste Jun Kukita.|
By Lely Djuhari
DILI, Timor-Leste, 26 June 2008 – On a visit here this week, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Jackie Chan inspired young people in Timor-Leste with a special message about using martial arts as a peaceful, unifying force.
Martial arts have historically been very popular with Timorese youths. In the past, they practiced martial arts for sport, fitness and self-defense. But with the descent of the country into violence following independence, more and more youths have been applying their skills to acts of crime and violence.
Timor-Leste, which received its independence six years ago, is one of the poorest nations in the region. The government recognizes that strong youth-focused policies, as well as better education and employment opportunities, are critical to the country’s future.
Uniting martial arts students
During Mr. Chan’s visit, he interacted with young people at a youth centre, a school and the national stadium, where he led over 3,500 students in a unifying exercise.
|Jackie Chan leads several hundred students in a martial arts exercise at the national stadium in Dili, Timor-Leste.|
The stadium walls had been decorated with graffiti messages of peace and harmony, and martial arts students from the Wushu, Kempo, Karate and Aikido schools each performed demonstrations. During the event, co-hosted by UNICEF and the Secretary of Youth and Sports, Mr. Chan encouraged young people to become productive members of society and to channel their energies constructively.
“It does not matter what school of martial arts we are from as long as we are united,” he said. “Training for martial arts helps you to strengthen your eyes, your mind and your body. When you have a good body and mind, let's help people. Don't harm them.”
Peace dialogues replace fighting
Mr. Chan later flew by helicopter to Ainaro in the rural southwest of the country, where martial arts were first introduced hundreds of years ago. After landing at a football field, he was greeted by 600 students who linked arms with him and did a traditional dance to show unity.
Back in Dili, at the Comoro Youth Centre, Mr. Chan was shown the importance of vocational youth training and observed lessons in life skills, English and electronics.
He also shot from the penalty box at a football pitch in Becora, an area where rival martial arts gangs used to fight fiercely but now hold peace dialogues instead.
‘Education is a priceless investment’
On a visit to a child-friendly school in Camea, Mr. Chan chatted to a classroom of children engaged in art and math classes, taking time out to skip rope and play volleyball with them. Many of the children said they had to walk upwards of an hour and half up rugged hills to get to school.
“I’ve heard how tough it is for some children to go to school here. Education is a priceless investment in the lives of young people. We must help them stay in school and finish their education so they can have a better future,” said Mr. Chan.
|In Dili, Jackie Chan (centre) laughs with young athletes at the Comorro Youth Centre, which provides literacy classes, skills training, sports and recreation for young people.|
“Jackie's visit has been an inspiration to many kids here. I can see their eyes and faces light up as he waves, gives high fives and reaches out to them with his charismatic style,” said the UNICEF Representative in Timor-Leste Jun Kukita.
“UNICEF is committed to working with Timor-Leste’s government to fulfil the rights of young people and to make sure they have the opportunity to learn, develop practical skills and play an active role in the development of the country,” he added.
Toward a lasting peace
Mr. Chan, who became famous for his kung fu films, met thousands of young people on his visit and listened to their concerns and hopes for the future, while delivering a message of discipline, respect and unity.
He also attended a dinner hosted by President Jose-Ramos Horta, met Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and was briefed by Special Representative of the Secretary General for Timor-Leste Atul Khare.
Minister Miguel Manetelu thanked Mr. Chan for visiting. “We hope that all the young people here will remember your words,” he said. “We must make peace last in this country.”