Fernanda Borges, a native of Timor-Leste (East Timor), was working in Australia as a commercial banker in 1999 when she received the phone call would send her back home. The U.N. had taken over governance of East Timor after citizens voted to declare their independence from Indonesia. Decades of internal violence and fighting between rebels and the Indonesian military had decimated the island’s infrastructure. It was time to rebuild.
“How are we going to take this country forward and really achieve the dreams and really make it worthwhile for those 600,000 people that gave up their lives for our cause?” Fernanda knew the answer to the question she asked herself at the time. When the U.N. called on her to get involved, she couldn’t say no.
Fernanda returned to the capital city Dili and reunited with extended family she hadn’t seen since fleeing the fighting long ago. She also learned what happened to the women taken into the mountains with resistance fighters to escape the Indonesian forces. They died of hunger or were victims of napalm. “They became, if you like, the messengers of the resistance,” explains Fernanda. “They would be the ones to take food to the mountains, they would be the ones to take the risks in order to sustain that resistance movement out up in the mountains. So as a consequence, a lot of them were raped, tortured, became sexual slaves to the Indonesian military and bore war children.”
After serving in finance and economics capacities, including Minister of Finance, in newly independent Timor-Leste, Fernanda co-founded the National Unity Party (PUN) and led the party to P