Four languages [Tetum, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesian and English] are recognised in the Timor Leste constitution.  In some ways they compete for space, both in education and in society generally.  While Portuguese is the official language, there is a feeling among students and parents that English and Bahasa Indonesia have more practical use. For this reason, and because many school teachers are not sufficiently fluent in Portuguese, English has remained the second language of choice and Palms has received many requests for English teachers across the country.

In 2010, Palms Australia received a request for an English teacher to set up a community English program in the village of Atabae, a rural, coastal subsistent community, about 3 hours from the Timor Leste capital Dili, and approximately 38 km from the Indonesian border.  This request was submitted by the local community committee, Friends & Partners with Australia [FPA] supported in partnership with a Brisbane community group Friends & Partners with East Timor [FPET].  Palms  partnership with the Atabae community had begun in 2004 began with Palms response to their request to recruit, prepare and support a nurse to assist capacity building in clinical health care.

Establishing an English program 2011-2012

Jonh, Afon, Maria [Anne’s original Trainee Teachers with her in 2011]

Anne Chapman a Special Education Consultant and ESL Primary School Teacher from Melbourne accepted the 2010 invitation and was prepared by Palms to commence a two-year placement from February 2011.  Over this time, she successfully trained four local assistant teachers to teach English.

In 2013 one of the assistant teachers, Maria,  went on to an English teaching position at the Atabae Catholic school.  A second of the assistant teachers began additional work as an interpreter and the other two continue to run the Community English program.

During the two-year placement the program Anne and the four assistants taught 200 children, youth and adults with varying degrees of written and spoken English.  Attributions can be difficult, but:

  • One of those students went on to teach English in the capital, Dili.
  • Two students gained first and second place in the regional National English Year 9 exams (approx. 5000 students).
  • One student achieved top score over all subjects in the region.
  • One student achieved highest score in English in the district (approx. 1500 students)
  • Twenty students learnt to use Microsoft Word.
  • More than thirty students could speak in English for over 3 minutes on a variety of known subjects- home, family, their village, fishing, school, food.
  • Ten students have a level of English which enables them to translate oral speeches.
  • According to Anne all the advanced and most of the intermediate students speak better English than their school English teachers.
  • Thirty students received scholarships to do further study in either formal or informal education, both in Dili and at Baucau Teachers College.
  • A community library with over 2000 books in English has been established in Atabae and is used regularly.
  • Based on their posture, the volume in their voices, their eye contact, the way they initiate conversations in English at the market or walking to school, their plans for the future, the way they relate to teachers and make decisions, all students are more confident.
  • Female students became more assertive and confident to participate fully in class.
  • Students and their families have been challenged to broaden their thinking about the role of women, to have personal goals, to ask why and to think of consequences.
Education Clinic Lesson with Anne

In January 2013 Committee Members at Friends & Partners with Australia told Palms “…It is good development, and we will continue the education program when Anne goes. Development of education is very good. During Anne’s presence many students have learned English, and they can talk.  These primary school students only learned English for 6 months. Some teachers are surprised the students can speak English, but not speak Portuguese after learning for 6 years. Method to teach is different and very good”.

Continuing to build on strengths in Education 2013-2015

In April 2013 Palms sent Heather Henderson to continue building and consolidating established teaching strengths.  In addition to the Community English Program, a multi-language library and literacy program [English, Tetum, and Portuguese] became operational providing educational opportunities for all from four-year old’s to adults.

The English teacher assistants:

  • Continued to run the Community English Program
  • Achieved Certificate III in Planning & Assessment
  • Volunteered to teach in local schools and received an allowance
  • Gained management skills with the Scholarship Placement Program
  • Developed skills in financial management and
  • Established a community sporting program
Heather Henderson and students outside her home and community library

The Local President of Friends & Partners with Australia commented:
“…Heather has made a very good contribution in her work mentoring in English.  She brings the involvement of her students and builds capacity in the aspect of English communication. Therefore, (continuing) our good relation in the long future”.

From May 2012 to May 2014 Ian Gray utilised his specialist IT skills, and worked in partnership with George [counterpart] and the Youth Association to:

  • Establish a Computer Library enabling  the community without computers to have access
  • Provide community Microsoft Word and Excel training
  • Conduct a Community English Class Program.
George and Ian in Atabae

Ensuring Localisation 2015

After four years of mentoring by Anne and Heather, the Community Education Program was mostly localised with the English Teacher Assistants now fully coordinating the program.  To assist them through transition Palms Australia teacher, Sam Haddin, (working with the Eskola Primira Bedois and Eskola Primira Sabracularan near Dili) made the road trip fortnightly to provide mentoring support from July to December 2015.

This included advanced English classes for the Teacher Assistants including lesson planning, speaking, writing and listening skills, public speaking, formal speeches, grant proposal writing, constructing emails and Facebook appropriate usage and content.

Philip Cranley and the Atabae Community Education Team

In conjunction with the fortnightly education mentoring, Philip Cranley, Palms Participant working with Sao Paulo Education Foundation – Dili Diocese, provided financial and administrative support to the education team and community committee [Friends & Partners with Australia.

Community Development  2016-2017

Upon localising the Community Health and Education Programs the Atabae community were enthusiastic about identifying and developing new community programs that would aid the development of their local community. To help build skills in this area, a Palms participant was requested.  Veronica Chong [Social Worker] joined the Atabae community from June 2016 to September 2017. During her assignment Veronica’s role as outlined by Friends and Partners with Australia broadly stated the following:

  • Reaffirm and build on the strengths that already existed within the community
  • With community leaders, NGOs, health, education staff and community members explore and develop community goals and hopes based on locally identified gaps in services or community needs.
  • Facilitate and build capacity with the broader relationship between Atabae community programs and sustainable funding sources
Afon and Ivor [Teacher Assistants] with Veronica – Community English Program

As it was time for the funding relationship between FPET and the Atabae community to end, Veronica’s role with FPA was vital to help locally consolidate new streams of income to enable locally driven programs to continue into the future.  Throughout the 18 months of her assignment new local and international relationships were forged that would help to address the many needs in agriculture, marketing, water & sanitation.

A Partnership of Solidarity, Compassion and Collaboration

The relationship between FPET, FPA, Atabae Community and Palms Australia provides a great model for demonstrating how local Australian groups can provide support for overseas communities through Palms Australia participants.  

Communities here in Australia are inspired to provide funding support for overseas communities, and one of the most sustainable ways of doing this is to fund skill exchange.  Long after the funds have finished, and the Palms participant has left, the skills exchanged live on, continuing to bring benefit to individuals, families and communities.

Thank you Friends and Partners with East Timor [2004-2017]

End of FPET programs in Timor Leste Gathering [2018]

The Future

Palms Australia and the parish community of Atabae continue their partnership with ongoing requests for skill exchange.   Please view current Atabae positions.