6 Months In

6 Months In

Generations of Palms’ volunteers have heard the advice “don’t do anything for six months.” While this may seem impractical to someone leaving our sometimes-hectic culture, or wasteful to donors wanting immediate results (however unsustainable), it remains as true as ever that taking time to establish relationships is an essential part of the volunteering process.

John Chang, from Chatswood, has just completed his first six months and offers the following observations of his new workplace and home in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Timorese are very friendly people, sociable and generally polite. They tend to greet you at any time and any where. Also, they love doing any kind of celebration in a big way that includes baptism, funerals or weddings. Their public holidays celebrate Santo Day, Soul Day, Santa Cruz Day – which commemorates the massacre, the worst outrages of the Indonesian soldiers which killed more than 100 civilians. There are two kinds of Independence Day, one is on 20th May and the other is on 28th November and there is also Indonesian Invasion Day. The Timorese earn little but they do know how to spend big on any celebration and take days preparing for it.

My work place is at Katolika Diocese de Dili, next to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was opened by President Soeharto in 1988 and blessed by Pope John Paul II the following year. The location is about 30 minutes walking from my casa but no thanks; it is far too hot for walking. We are situated in a white painted Portuguese designed building which we share with a few NGOs and priests from different parishes. My role is Business/Youth Work Coordinator, looking after the Departementu Juventude also known as DEJUKDDIL or Youth Centre.

Beside spiritual sessions (which are not conducted by me) the Diocese Youth Centre organises sports, art and music and also provides vocational training such as English, IT and Computer courses. Most of these activities were created after the upheaval in 2006/7 where unemployed youth of different gangs were involved in fights and minor riots during which cars and properties were stoned and torched.

The centre is dedicated to build capacity and develop leadership skills for the poor; to increase the independence of the vulnerable and young unemployed men and women. And so far it is showing a positive channel with a good result in keeping the youth off the streets in the Diocese.

The Training Centre is operated by a dozen 22 to 27 year old teachers/trainers who possess no formal teaching qualification. Most of them are handpicked by the Pedro and perform their duties teaching, marketing the centre, maintaining, cleaning, guarding plus multi-tasking in organising music, sports and other activities of the centre.

It’s a hell of job to be in for a monthly wage of a mere one hundred bucks and sometimes with late payment of wages over two and a half months. Fortunately, they are happy to do the chores and there are no grudges. This is the good side of the Timorese culture. As well they have high respect for their Amo/Pedro, Irmas/Sisters and Brothers or elders. After all this is an exceptionally strong Catholic country.