Toongabbie Parishioner lends helping hand in Timor-Leste with Palms Australia

19/04/2013

Palms Australia Kevin Wilson News Story
Kevin with Anaflora and Marcelino.

St Anthony of Padua Toongabbie Parishioner Kevin Wilson is spending the next two years volunteering with Organisaun Haburas Moris, a Timorese non-governmental organisation (NGO), working to improve the lives of people in the Bobonaro District of Timor-Leste. This is Kevin’s second volunteering placement with Palms Australia, Australia’s Catholic volunteering agency. His story is published below.

I have now been working at Organisaun Haburas Moris (OHM) in Maliana for about five months. OHM is a local NGO operating at the grass roots level, fostering various income generation and community development projects for the surrounding communities in the Bobonaro districts.

This location is very different to my first Palms placement in Bougainville. It is much more developed, with shops, eateries and even mostly reliable electricity. The scenery is much like the Kimberley or Northern Territory (with Eucalypts and Casuarinas). Both the seasons – dry and wet – are very severe.

When I first arrived in Dili it was very hard to see where the need is. Dili’s fortress embassies, international aid compounds, tourist hotels and shopping centres, give ‘culture shock’ a whole new meaning. Of course, even in Australia, First and Third Worlds exist side by side and Dili reflects just one of Timor Leste’s great challenges as a nation: neo-colonialism. Every international government, aid agency, corporation etc. seems to want a piece of this tiny country. Is this the inevitable result of a small nation gaining ‘independence’ today?

Scratching the surface though and meeting the people on the street, you will find the situation for Timorese is more difficult with a lack of services, education, equality, employment and prospects. Out in the rural districts this becomes even clearer, which is where we come in.

My work as OHM Field Staff Supervisor officially is to assist the organisation’s project managers and co-ordinators, building their reporting capacity and management skills. This is more difficult than it might sound, as the people are extremely skilled already! This means that I spend time working in the surrounding villages, immersing myself in the communities and getting my hands dirty.

Community immersions

Palms Australia Kevin Wilson News Story
The completed manu luhan.

My first official trip was to Marobo working on a poultry project for the Soelesu community. Soelesu is a very rocky mountain village with poor shallow soils. The main staple crop is maize with occasional tarot and banana while herding of goats and pigs is the other main activity. The object in this OHM sponsored project is for the community to obtain young chicks and raise them to maturity when they are sold for a profit, supplementing the village’s subsistence economy.

Getting the poultry project started of course meant a few days building a manu luhan (chook-house) with local material. It is always a pleasure to participate in a village building project, witnessing the various crafts, knowledge, effort and co-operation which the whole community brings and shares.

This time however I was also struck by the practical leadership and co-ordination skills of the OHM staff: Mana Anaflora, Mana Honoria, Maun Marcelino and Maun Carlito. The Soelesu folk were perfectly confident that Marcel knew what he was talking about and the requirements of such a project, while Marcel had the same confidence in their abilities.

I think people were a bit impressed with how I handled a machete and cut bamboo. They made a few comments in the local Tetun, which I hardly understood but the gist was ‘You’ve done this before’. In turn, my faith in the perfectionism and skill of the builders was affirmed when an intense storm broke and we had to take shelter in the manu luhan. The heavy wind and rain lasted for more than three hours, yet the half-built structure did not shift or even leak.

A week later we boxed up 74-month-old chicks at the OHM office while we waited for the transport. This was an anguna, an old truck full of people, their produce and livestock. This one had sacks of cement, rice, potatoes, goats and 20 human passengers. Anaflora, Honoria and I then boarded with five boxes of chickens which couldn’t be stacked anywhere and had to be constantly reorganised and protected as we climbed the rocky road. We picked up another goat with owner (more reorganising), set down one goat halfway and were almost at our destination when we had to re-shuffle everything and everybody to unload the cement. At one stage, one of the sacks came to life with a squeal, stood up and assumed a distinct pig shape.

Despite several chicks temporarily escaping on the journey through their air holes, we arrived at Soelesu with a proper count, including one which unfortunately died on the way. The rest were all fed, watered and content in their new home. We sent three extra chicks the next day by motor bike.

Community immersions like this remind me of my time on Bougainville, where I took part in many local building projects and was a regular PMV passenger. We didn’t have goats but the roads were worse.

The Soelesu poultry project was just the start of my life in Timor Leste and my experiences since have been just as interesting and positive, yet always different. One constant though is the ability of the OHM staff to fully integrate with each community during a project’s implementation. Not only do they work together on a building, but they share meals, accommodation, domestic chores and life in general. It reflects my own aspirations as a Palms volunteer and, I expect, those of my peers.

Kevin’s placement was organised by Palms Australia. Palms 2013 Encounter trips provide a glimpse into the culture of Timor-Leste, as well as the opportunity to meet Palms’ volunteers like Kevin, and learn more about their development work. Dates are 1-3 July and 23 September-5 October. Visit www.palms.org.au or phone (02) 9518 9551 to learn more about Palms Encounters or volunteering with Palms.


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