by Michele Rankin.
Just in time for International Womens’ Day, Michele Rankin writes of busy Balibo where even traumatic memories inspire hope and positive action. And yes: Women are a driving force-
My first year in Balibo has been full of adventure and happenings. Balibo is situated along the western border of Timor-Leste and although it is a rural and remote location it is a hub of activity. My role at Balibo Community Learning Centre (CLC) is predominately mentoring staff to develop their capability to operate as a self-sustaining NGO.
The Centre houses the Balibo Five Museum so we receive a lot of visitors from around the world. Building the confidence of staff members to conduct tours and provide a background of the political history was an enriching experience. Confidence is an important factor in developing skills across the board. The increase of confidence has encouraged CLC staff to improve current activities and implement many new and successful projects to meet the needs of the community.
The Centre is now a hub for schools and health services within the sub-district. We work cohesively with doctors and teachers to ascertain needs for the area. The newly opened Dental Clinic at Australia Flag house services the Bobonaro district. More than 500 people have been treated so far and we are about to embark on the Saude Nihan program. After collaborating with key community personnel, the Centre will deliver a dental health program throughout the 31 schools within Balibo sub-district. As there are only 5 dentists in Timor, visiting dentists will mentor two Timorese dental nurses to continue the program after their departure.
The computer classes being held at the Centre have now expanded to a ‘Train-the-teacher’ initiative. This program is a more equitable and accessible venture and it is hoped that in 3 years every child within the sub-district will have the opportunity to attain basic computer skills. There are currently 81 adults and children enrolled in our English classes. The Atabae Community Learning Centre will assist CLC to develop the skills of a local resident to teach English as a long term sustainable measure.
The Centre now supports 5 Women’s cooperatives through the Women’s Co-op Shop. 100% of the proceeds go directly back to the Co-ops. The women are guided on how to market their goods and the value of product placement and the income generated has exceeded all expectations. We have developed a strong relationship with OHM (another NGO) and with the reopening of the Balibo 5 Cafeteria; CLC will incorporate the Women’s Agricultural Co-op produce into the menu. As tourism is the fastest growing sector in Timor-Leste, the Caféteria will provide some basic hospitality and on-the-job training of 10 unemployed people aged between 16-21 years.
One of our team challenges at the Centre is to capture as many photos as possible of people doing
the Balibo High Five. We even managed to get Kirsty and Xanana Gusmao doing the Balibo High Five. You can visit our Facebook page – Balibo 5 Community Learning Centre which showcases all CLC activities and promotes learning opportunities.
I am fortunate to work with some amazing people who are committed to their community, eager to learn and most importantly appreciate my weird sense of humour. They all call me ‘Mom’ and I’m proud to call them my oan manes ho fetos (sons and daughters). I have inherited many grandchildren who call me Avo malae (foreign grandma) and at the last count I had around 11 grandkids. I love how my Timor family are so defensive when I’m called a malae, “Mom is a Timor malae not a malae!”