News: Letter from Ermera, Timor-Leste

Students play cat and mouse
Ellie Virgona, is a teacher from Moorabbin, who has almost completed two years as a volunteer teacher trainer in Ermera district, Timor-Leste.  This is an excerpt from one of her newsletters.

The next morning on our return, we stopped at the primary school in Nunurema and WOW!  As soon as we pulled up in the car, you could feel the energy from the students singing and the smiles.  This is only a small school from class 1 – 3.  The children truly ‘performed’ for us, sang a whole gamut of songs that we sing in Australia but have been translated into Tetun.  Then a little girl of about 7 years of age, stood out the front at the assembly, and in a confident voice, led the prayer for the entire school.  Clear, confident, respectful and nothing short of gorgeous.

Now I was only attending this trip as an observer, but somehow having believed I was invisible initially, I wasn’t invisible any longer, and the principal thanked me for visiting their school and bestowed a tais.  I was quite overwhelmed and unprepared, and all that would come out of my mouth was, ‘Obrigada barak!’ (Thank you very much!)  To which all the children replied, ‘Nada.’ (You’re welcome)

In having the opportunity to attend this ‘field trip’, it made me realise how important it is, not to get so lost or wrapped up in my own little bit of what I think I might be doing in the world – to take the opportunity to see that there are a number of wonderful people doing things in an extraordinary way in this country.  It’s not something that reaches everybody, but for many it is so incredibly important to their livelihood, to their mental and spiritual connectedness and to their communities and the children who are ‘the future’ in this country.

I have told my students that soon the course will finish and that I’ll be returning home to Australia.  They ask me if anyone else is coming to teach.  I try to explain that being a volunteer is a big commitment for us.  We leave behind our families, our jobs, our culture, our friends, our livelihood and a way of life we know and understand. Sometimes we let go of other dreams too. It is a big decision to make.  I don’t know if there will be anyone else.

Just last night, one of my students who attends sporadically, like once every 5 weeks, rang me and said, “Teacher, I just heard you are leaving soon, I will miss your kindness, you have been good to us, is anyone else coming.”

I thought it strange for this to come from him.  Honestly he didn’t attend class that often and rarely did any homework I gave.  It was a surprise to me, but then I thought again how maybe I’ve got it all wrong and perhaps have spent these past 2 years in a place of misunderstanding rather than accepting.

I think the fact that he rang me especially to say this, (that was his money), and how other students hang around after class to chat with me must surely show, that this opportunity to attend the English course and the connection and their expression of hope for the future says a great deal more than I can explain here.

Coming to TL has been one of the most incredible and amazing things I’ve ever done in my life and I wouldn’t swap it for anything.  I hope God blesses me with many opportunities to do mission/volunteer work again.

X Ellie

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Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another; it is the only means. - Albert Einstein