At the time of writing (Thurs Sept 16th 2010) I’ve been here in Timor-Leste for 2 ½ months, focussing mainly on network development and working closely with the three groups who make up CTKDS. July and Aug were spent on the road back and forth from Dili to Los Palos to Iliomar meeting colleagues, attending briefings and picking up materials from Rotary. I’ve been in Los Palos for the last few weeks staying at Verupupuk, a youth organisation committed to progressive community development. Last month we supported Sheila Baxter to deliver training in recycled paper making to four women from CTKDS and youth here at Verupupuk. It was great. There’s a lot of interest, particularly from the women and there’s much potential for diverse product development.
The Materestu (Survivors) group in Fuat village, Iliomar, are ready to build their women’s centre with the men in the village volunteering to build the centre for their wives and daughters. It’s unusual because usually, everyone gets paid when an International NGO is involved, however the community have taken full ownership over the process. They feel the space belongs to them and just as they wouldn’t get paid to build their own houses, why should this project be different. We’ve also had help from some local young guys who have sourced very reasonably priced timber, cement and transport, which is a huge help.
The community has waited impatiently for the rains to stop so that sand and rocks could be delivered on time to start laying the foundations. The roofing materials and building team arrive in early Oct. We’ll be having a traditional ceremony to lay the first stones later this month. Four of us, Balbina (who originally started the weaving groups), the Chief of the group, Marcelina, a village elder and myself will lay a stone each to symbolise how this has all been possible (I know I’m going to cry the whole time!). A traditional ceremony will follow, which will strengthen the building spiritually, and it feels surreal in many ways as it’s been a long time coming.
The men in the village have done rosters already and a range of other organising has taken place to support them while they volunteer alongside the Australian builders, Darren and Graeme. The ATA crew are coming in late October to install the solar panels and lighting scheme, including directional lighting for the weavers.
I’ll probably never want to leave Fuat after that – it’s a peaceful paradise up there! The building for the Kainliu group will be started next year when land is confirmed and the group have found their working roles. Managing one building project at a time will allow everything to be done properly.
Together with the Los Palos weaving groups and CTKDS as an organisation, we’re making plans to start seeking land, do strategic planning, implement the beginning of the Health Programs and potentially find an interim space from which to work until the land is secure. It’s pretty exciting. I’m hoping to work closely with Elsa (Mana Sita) who wants to work with us to ‘light the fire of the women’s movement in Los Palos. She is a feminist and has a deep understanding of social movements, the culture here in Lautem, and is very well connected politically. She’s pregnant with her fifth child but as is typical in Timor, she has many other mothers to help her.
We’ve discussed opening a health food shop, stocking only locally made, organic products to counter the fake, nutrition-less imports from Indonesia stocked by the numerous kiosks here. We’d also like to develop and stock alternative health remedies and develop a range of other programs with a focus on local knowledge and capacity to improve women’s quality of life.
Some days I wonder what the role of international development is at all and I’ve had many moments of total confusion and despair. I’ve been coming to Timor every year since 2003 but I know I have so very much more to learn in order for my contribution to be valued by the community and to be valuable in terms of sustainability. So very many NGOs have come and gone since independence, most working from in a deficit model, focussing on the communities’ weaknesses rather than their strengths, so most people have very little faith in the capacity of outsiders to bring lasting change. For me, the most important thing is that the community doesn’t lose faith in us. It seems like a pretty tough call at times.
I’ve learnt some more Makalero (language from Iliomar) and also a few words in Fataluku (Los Palos language). We’ve played a few games of Scrabble in seven languages which is a fantastic way to learn. I’m also learning about the deep cultural beliefs here in Los Palos, the value of these beliefs to the locals, how sacred certain things are and how these beliefs govern behaviour. The social richness inherent in culture here is vast and deep rooted in people’s consciousness. There’s talk of starting a movement to oppose the work of some international NGOs as their conduct clashes with local beliefs and social systems. It’s very, very interesting and informative for us in our work.
It’s hot today and I’m pondering the future of this tiny island as climate change is impacting heavily on food security. People are very worried. Farmers can’t prepare the land for planting and the ground is so damp that seedlings shrivel. Everyone is wondering how the government will respond as the dry season is almost three months late in coming. The only option they feel they have is to buy imported rice but if they do, there’s no money for other things and of course very poor families can’t afford to buy rice anyway; they eat cassava leaf and corn but this will run out soon. So economic development is a priority for the women and must be a priority for us in return. Welcome to modernity!
Maka ne’e deit.