“It’s just a fact of life”: Electricity outages in Timorese classrooms.

“It’s just a fact of life”: Electricity outages in Timorese classrooms.

By Rhoe Price

Timor life is always full of surprises. Some good (and some not so good) but always interesting. I know through social media I can paint a facade of my life here in Timor as paradise living. Lounging on the beach with a beer in hand, the stunning scenery, the funny differences between Australian and Timorese culture and all of my many adventures. These aspects are a part of my life here and believe me I’m very blessed to have those things.

But obviously, there are tough moments. The moments that wouldn’t happen or would rarely happen in a country like Australia. The day to day problems that would be major inconveniences in Australia but something that so constantly happens here that everyone has grown to live with them. One of those inconveniences is the unpredictable and very frustrating event of losing power.

Students at St Therese school in Bedois, an outer suburb of Dili, working in dim light in a power outage that is all too common in the city. Picture: Rhoe Price

When I first arrived here in Timor Leste in January last year I very quickly had to come to terms with constantly having no electricity. Especially in the rainy season, power would often cut out for long periods of time or for many brief periods throughout the day. In Australia, power cutting all the time… how annoying! Can’t get anything done! Can’t watch Netflix, can’t charge my phone, etc. Unfortunately, here in Timor Leste, it’s just a fact of life.

In the classroom, you’re probably not surprised that I don’t have a Smartboard, Smart TV, interactive whiteboard, a whiteboard, books, a “quiet place” for students, a PowerPoint, a fan/air conditioner or lights. What we do have are traditional rows of tables and chairs (two students per table) all facing the blackboard.

One wall of the classroom are “windows” with shutters to let in fresh air and also for light of course. Not having electricity in the classroom can be very difficult. Besides the inability to use technology, relying on natural light is challenging. Especially in the wet season (November – May). It’s overcast most days, and there’s also this annoying glare that sometimes reflects off of the blackboard.

When I started teaching last year, I had to keep telling the students to stay in their chairs because they were walking all around the classroom. At that time, I had very limited local language skills (Tetun), so I was unaware that the students were telling me that they couldn’t see.

Eventually, I figured out that the glare on the blackboard, as well as the general darkness in the classroom, made it quite difficult for the students to read anything; on the board or in their own books. I tried a few different table arrangements to help, but having so many students (biggest classroom 62, smallest 45 students) and with limited space…it never quite worked out. I’ve had to create posters, I’ve made worksheets and cards so the students don’t have read and write on the board. Nevertheless, for the majority of the time we just have to make do with chalk and the blackboard.

Creating worksheets helped students better complete classwork as they did not have to be able to see the blackboard, often difficult to read due to glare. Photo: Rhoe Price.

My students are complete superstars. Granted they make fun of me 90% of the time, and they can also be complete ratbags and complain about English, but they get on with it and most of my students are super willing to learn no matter what the conditions are. Electricity or not.

Having difficulties with electricity is just one example of life here in the wonderful Timor Leste. Next time the power goes out, light a candle and instead of being annoyed, be thankful and have a think about the communities in East Timor and how you can help in any way you can.

Rhoe is an English Teacher Mentor in Bedois, Timor Leste. You can support the ongoing training and development at St Therese in Bedois by donating to this project. $50 provides one day of tuition for those 45 – 65 students in Rhoe’s classrooms.