The First Six Months in Maliana

The First Six Months in Maliana

Mark Broster, from Western Sydney and well travelled, is the latest Palms volunteer working with Fundasaun Haburas Moris in Maliana, Timor Leste. Now with official NGO status, Haburas Moris is highly regarded locally as it continues to strengthen capacity and “develop life” for the rural communities of Bobonaro. Mark writes.

It’s now been 6 months since I arrived in Maliana, East Timor (Timor Leste) as a Palms Australia volunteer to join the Fundasaun Haburas Moris team as an advisor. This local NGO employs between 10 – 15 Timorese staff at any given point in time, depending on the nature of the projects being undertaken, and is primarily focused on sustainable agriculture initiatives with attention to outcomes that include community development, food security, environmental sustainability and the economic empowerment of women.

Maliana is the administrative centre and largest town in Bobonaro District. Compared to some of the smaller towns there is a much larger market with a broader range of food and produce, and most basic day-to-day items are readily available. Water availability is an ongoing issue across the district (as it is across much of Timor Leste). In Maliana it’s generally available for several hours each morning for filling plastic tubs or cement tankis for use in the home.

Scenic Photograph of Maliana

Six months into an assignment can be quite a reflective time as a volunteer. The Palms approach acknowledges the first six months is often just about getting settled in a new community, observing and learning, developing a degree of trust and establishing good interpersonal relationships.

This is my first time volunteering full time. I had previously been on several short motorcycle tours in Timor Leste, so I had some basic understanding of the climate, culture and language before my arrival. This has increased exponentially over the past half a year. Being a temporary “resident” is vastly different to passing through as a visitor, it’s a continual process that does require a commitment to observing, learning and at times a lot of patience – including with one’s self.

Being a local NGO, Tetun (the common Timorese language) is predominantly used in the Haburas Moris workplace, including for meetings and when working within the sucus (villages), so this has required a focused effort to be able to communicate effectively on a daily basis. It has also been very useful when I’ve delivered training to staff in Microsoft applications and English, to be able to explain in a local language less used English terms that aren’t commonly understood.

The major challenge for me has been the isolation of being in Maliana and not having the types of personal interactions that are generally only had with close friends and family on a regular basis. When I first arrived I was the only Palms volunteer in Maliana, however I’ve since been joined by Dianne who is a volunteer with the Maliana Diocese and Michele, who is another Palms volunteer and working with the Balibo Community Learning Centre (about a 45 minute motorcycle ride away). These friendships/support networks are really important.

Mark with his Mum at OHM
Mark with his Mum and colleagues at OHM

Developing genuine patience has been a key personal focus for me over the first six months – and I’ve had ‘several’ opportunities to work on that…

The great things about volunteering in this role are that Haburas Moris is a local NGO with talented, friendly and enthusiastic staff that are committed and driven by a sense of purpose. The position is focused on the key areas of organisational development, governance and financial management, which are closely aligned with my existing skills and experience, so there is real opportunity to contribute to the organisation effectively in these areas …   and… the Bobonaro District (like most of Timor Leste) is spectacularly beautiful when you want to go out and appreciate all that nature has to offer!