Christine Davids moved to Timor Leste in March to support the newly opened pre-school of St Therese of the Child Jesus Parish. The new facility provides an early childhood program for over 40 children, providing valuable preparation for children prior to commencing primary school. In this reflection on her first six months, Christine observes the expressions of both grief and optimism in her community.
I began my placement at the end of March, so my thoughts on Timor Leste have evolved from my first impressions. Being a Palms volunteer we have the privilege of living in the community with the people we work with. We don’t live in a compound with other volunteers from western countries, which I have observed adds to the “them and us” divide.
I was asked to write about the “changes” once coming here. Lots of the changes are evident to me and the kindergarten or ‘taka’, which gets better every day as my Tetun improves. Young children are eager to learn, inquire and be involved in activities. Their co-operative behaviour is better when they are participating in active learning.
The Education Ministry here is asking great changes of its teachers with little formal training and that is a major part of my role. Trust is created over time and to do that I need to try to ‘walk a mile in their shoes.’ Sadly we have had six deaths associated with the pre-school in the first twelve weeks I was here. I have been to four homes for grieving ceremonies, one funeral and a changing of the flowers, one month after burial.
I have been invited into homes where a feast of Timorese food is prepared for us and houses where I have been shown the last cup of rice in the bin, what they have they share.
The grief of the young adults is not enough employment. Many aspire to study, however they still need employment in those fields when they graduate.
Timor Leste will need problem solvers in many areas; the environment, fishery, agriculture, infrastructure, engineering, health, education, fostering inquiry and developmentally appropriate practise will contribute to achieving this.
I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to volunteer with Palms. This placement has matched my skills and experience, enabling me to share these with the Timorese and to also learn so much about culture and language!
You can support Christine’s work with teachers in Timor Leste here.