Remote But Not Removed

Remote But Not Removed

By Michele Rankin

In 2016 & 2017 Palms volunteer Michele Rankin worked at the Balibo 5 Community Learning Centre (CLC), Timor Leste, as an Organisational Development Mentor. CLC was established by the Balibo House Trust in memory of the 5 Australian based journalists that were murdered in Balibo in 1975. The Centre is operated by a local community board. In 2019, Michele decided to return to Balibo with her daughter Gabby who is volunteering as English Teacher and Mentor.

Due to Covid 19, Gabby and Michele made the difficult decision to return back to Australia. The following communication shows how Michele and Gabby are keeping busy and very much connected with CLC.

Life has certainly taken a different turn of late! Timor-Leste appears to be doing better than most of the world in terms of the COVID cases. I pray this will continue.

Life remains busy as per usual. I’m still working full time with the crew at CLC and Balibo Trails. The Dental Clinic has been reopened for emergencies at 2 days per week and the Saude Nihan program will commence after the school holidays. Tomorrow the staff at CLC will give the Centre a thorough clean and disinfectant and the Museum will reopen. Thankfully the container has arrived with hand sanitiser etc…


Gabby, Anjelica and I have also been working with the guides and the rest of the PIT team (Marino & Guido) on an Inbound Tourist Marketing Strategy, and changing the website. This project has been extremely difficult to assist remotely but we are slowly getting there. The focus has been more on Ecotourism which aligns to the Timor-Leste governments Tourism Strategy.

There is still a lot of work to be done with the guides. We have been helping them create their vision, mission statements, cultural tours, bike agreement, bike hire and photo consent forms.  The list goes on. Last week I sent through instructions on how to create a bike chain! On the plus side the bike mechanic training for the guides and some of the Fort staff was completed. We are now looking at some bike trails including a military tour. There are a couple of local amateur riders who will map out the tours. 

Balibo Trails, Timor Leste

As you know the Fort [Balibo Fort Hotel] income basically supports the staff at CLC and this has taken a massive hit in light of the current health crises. At one stage it looked like the Fort would close down, all staff except for a skeleton crew was laid off. So I have been working with Luisa, Guido and Gabby on some marketing initiatives that will tie into the Balibo Trail guided tours. Gabby is also working with Luisa on information booklets for the rooms and some promotional collateral. I have been working with Luisa on revamping the menu to include more local dishes. This will hopefully align all marketing initiatives of the Balibo 5 Museum, Balibo Trails and Balibo Fort Hotel. Like Balibo Trails the Fort is another social enterprise that needs some guidance to achieve self sustainability and the guides rely on this source of customer traffic.

Digital English curriculum

Gabby has been working on her curriculum with Rofina for the under 12 y.o English classes. She has been creating some digital content around language pronunciation and grammar. Gabby has mentored Rofina through the first 2 units of this curriculum with the previous class of the older children. She is meeting with Rofina later today to discuss the lesson plan. Rofina will be working 2 days a week at the Centre for the interim. She will also be working for the Balibo Women’s Centre for one day a week for the next 6 months. 

I have also been working with Terry and Rino on the ALMA teacher mentor program (Apoio Lideransa Liuhosi Mentoria no Aprendizajen). Rino is now employed as a teachers mentor for 11 primary schools in the sub-district. He underwent training in Dili in February for 2 weeks and is now employed by the Trust officially in this role. It is being funded by ‘Spend it Well’ a philanthropic group who has been funding the school builds in the area. He is absolutely loving this role and it suits him. He topped the class in training and he impressed all the trainers. I’m so happy that he is being rewarded for all his hard work and dedication to his community. We have been setting up regular reporting for the donors and getting his contract drafted. 

The Day for Girls Program

The Days for Girls (DfG) program will recommence after exams and the school holidays. Sidonia is the program coordinator and is fabulous in this role. Sidonia will be mentoring some of the Ambassadors to deliver the Health management information sessions and she was so happy to have a Flip Chart translated. Dr Angie da Purificacao will be the part of the pilot trial for community information sessions. Dr Angie has some of the most disadvantaged women in her area and does a lot of great work with these women. She was also one of the doctors that received fitting and assessment training for the wheelchair program. We completed the translated feedback surveys and reporting requirements. 

We have also been busy helping with the allocation of shipment of medical supplies, setting up the playground equipment, working out the eye testing program with Dr Moniz just to name a few. It’s been really difficult the past few months to provide the support and assistance that is needed especially through these really difficult times. At the moment Gabby and I are working around a 40 hour week. So many messages to respond, meetings to discuss, how to guide, instructions, there seems to be so much that needs to be done. We are hoping to launch the new look Balibo Trails website by the end of the week.

Featured image: Balibo Trails, Balibo Timor Leste

Click on the links to support the continuing work of Michelle as Institutional Development Mentor and Gabby as English Teacher Mentor.