In 2004, Palms Australia received a request from the Parish of Sao Francsico De Assis Atabae,    Timor Leste from Fr John Suban SVD and Fr Marsellus SVD, to assist in clinical health care and capacity building.  Atabae is a rural, coastal subsistent community about 3 hours from Dili and approximately 38 km from the Indonesian border. 

Soon after receiving the request Palms had linked up with Friends and Partners with East Timor [FPET] through Peter De Haas, a previous Palms Australia participant and instigator of the Connect East Timor Project.  The relationship between FPET, Palms Australia and the Parish of Sao Francisco De Assis [Atabae, Timor Leste] continued collaboratively to build skill capacity until the end of 2017.

Health – Timor Leste

The health situation, following the post-referendum violence in Timor-Leste had been destroyed.  A mass departure of all Indonesian health workers had a huge impact. The priority for this newly independent state was to address immediate health needs and resource inequities.  The main health issues included: very high infant and maternal mortality rates; TB; malaria; diarrhoea and pneumonia for children. 

In 2003-2011, to address the shortage of health workers across the country, a bilateral agreement between Timor Leste and Cuba resulted in 230 Cuban Doctors assisting in the rural areas of Timor.  Simultaneously, medical scholarships were offered to 700 Timorese students to study in Cuba.

Initial Health Care Support 2005

Palms Australia’s first participants to go to Atabae – Nick [Naturapath] and Jane Eager [Midwife/Nurse] during January 2005 – March 2005, were able to provide direct medical assistance and health education through the local Atabae Clinic and surrounding villages at a critical time.  

Jane assisting with the Immunisation Program [2005]

As first Palms participants in Atabae, they were able to develop important relationships within the Atabae community and beyond that would form the solid foundations to continue building on existing strengths within the local community.

Developing a Community Health Program 2006 –  2011

In March 2006, Palms participants Margaret and David Hall commenced a 5-year placement in Atabae.    Margaret a registered community health nurse and David a project manager, in collaboration with the Sao Francsico De Assis Parish and with FPET funding, coordinated the build of a Community Health Centre, developed the skills of five Timorese counterparts [Jose, Maria, Serv, Carlita & Lepa] and  established programs in:

  • Public Health [School Assessments; TB Education; Dental Health; Audiology Assessments and Referrals]
  • Women’s Health
  • Mother & Child Groups
  • Disability Assessments and Support
  • Vocational Scholarships with the local Youth Association [funded by FPET]
David & Margaret, with counterparts, Maria, Carlita, Lepa, Jose and Jose Ramos Horta
Lepa providing a therapy demonstration

Transitioning Community Health into the Atabae Clinic & University Training for Carlita and Lepa 2012-2014

Sharon Hearns & Ian Gray continued the relationship with Atabae community from May 2012 – May 2014.  Sharon Hearns a registered nurse provided mentoring and training for Carlita and Lepa in health and nutrition.  Ian and George [counterpart] provide IT classes with the Atabae Youth Association and broader community.

The Community Health Centre programs were transitioned and consolidated under the auspices of the Atabae Government Health Services, where Sharon, worked alongside the local Timorese nurses/midwives providing workshops in:

  • Malaria/Dengue Prevention
  • Good Nutrition
  • Diarrhoea Prevention
  • Reproductive Health -Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
  • Good Dental Health
  • Benefits of hand washing
  • Healthy  Environment
  • TB Prevention
  • Mental Health Home Visits
  • Postnatal Home Visits
  • School Health Assessments
  • Mobile Clinic to remote mountain villages with Bairo Pite [NGO Hospital]

Lepa and Carlita, two counterparts who had worked alongside Margaret Hall and with Sharon Hearns commenced their FPET funded University studies in Nursing and Dietetics at Kupang West University until their graduation in 2015. Both have since returned to share their skills in Atabae.

“…Many times health workers in Atabae they find situations that are different and can find solutions with the volunteer.  We think that the objectives have been well completed, because we have worked together and have a good relationship between Palms volunteers and local staff and also the community and local authorities…..Yes, when this volunteer has finished her work, then a local person can continue to do the work.”

Sra Anna Xefi (Atabae Community Health Centre, May 2014)
Sharon with Lepa (Left) and Carlita (Right)

Read Part 2 of the partnership between Palms and Atabae Community – Education and Community Development.