Experience in Timor-Leste22 June, 2021
In 2018, I went to Timor-Leste with financial support and the blessing of the Rockhampton Diocese. With eagerness and some trepidation, I flew to Dili, being picked up by two young men unknown to me who said, come with us, proving I was the right malae (foreigner) by showing me a photograph of myself at the Palms induction in N.S.W.
My role in the Bedois parish was as a Pre-school Teacher Mentor. The pre-school teacher had had some training with Mary MacKillop International. Mary MacKillop provided outreach support in Viqecque district to about 17 pre-schools and limited training in Dili. Most “professoras” taught by rote the alphabet and numbers in much the same way as they had learnt as children. Only 17% of children in Timor-Leste went to pre-school so it was a priority for the government. I was building on the work of previous Palms volunteers supporting the professoras to develop activity-based programmes that fostered inquiry and problem solving.
It was very challenging for the local staff to accept and change the way they believed way they taught and it takes time, a long time. Parents also see learning by rote as beneficial learning. Timor faces many challenges now and into the future and Timorese people need to be part of solving those problems. They do not need a foreign power or institution fixing things up and then leaving without the support and infrastructure to continue those programmes. Palms Australia’s strength is to provide well qualified staff in answer to requests from local communities in the Pacific, Africa and South East Asia.
The young people of Timor need to be part of that change and development and education will help make them part of that change. Education that encourages problem solving. Schooling happens in two shifts a day as there are so many children and young people. The parish priest Fr. Alberty is a driver of education in Bedois and in 2019 a new pre-school was opened in the mountains above Bedois. I learnt to 4 wheel drive so I could get up there regularly, I loved it. The children literally had the clothes on their backs and a very simple home. They were the happiest children I have ever met. They lived in a village that needed to help everyone in the village for the good of all, the young ones caring for the younger ones.
Leaving due to Covid 19 was one of the saddest experiences of my life. I felt I was leaving when they needed me most. Timor-Leste has been in almost constant lockdown since I left and the Cyclone at Easter has caused death, illness, hunger to most and infrastructure damage that will take many years to repair. I eagerly await the vaccines and opening of borders so I can go back, renew friendships and return to my mission. If you want to support the continued work of Palms volunteers go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in Christ, Christine Davids