News: Letters from East Timor

Ida Greenway with her students
Ida Greenway is teaching English, Secretarial and Business skills to the girls at Morano College, Fuiloro, Timor-Leste.

We now have the third malaria case in two months in our small community of ten – hope I can stay clear of it. The orientation time has been a valuable tool for me. We also have here a young Italian volunteer teaching Portuguese and I am putting the skills you taught me into practice – they really work. My journalling has made it possible for me to “vent” when I am frustrated and allow me to sort out how to deal with things in a really positive way. I am here two months this week and already I have typed ninety pages (for my eyes only of course) Those hilarious games we played are just so true to life here – this week I was actually told that nobody knows the reason or the origin of one of the customs they are observing. I just had a huge laugh.

There are 135 young ladies aged 15 to 23 living at our College, half of which go to the Agricultural College (where the current Minister of Agriculture did his training) 2km up a laneway. Of course, the girls must be housed separately and that is how the Morana Skills Training College came to be in existence at all. As well as the IT and Tailoring courses, they are taught all the life skills which poverty prevents being taught at home. Good nutrition is high on the agenda – taking the opportunity of one year’s boarding hopefully to educate them for life and to turn the tide on their slight undernourished bodies.

I am pleased I have come. The adventures so far have been within my ability to cope, although there have certainly been days when I have wondered how I will manage. The college is an enclosed environment and as I also live there, the daily contact with the girls in all their activities appears to be working in breaking down their understandable reluctance to try to speak the English they know and are learning. My business skills training classes are a valuable addition to the College. Teaching them comes naturally and is well received by the students. Even though it is very early days yet, I can see that I am already having a positive effect.

Life here is certainly not dull or boring. The seven Timorese and one Filipina Sisters are just lovely, dedicated to the girls and work long and hard -living amongst them is not as I imagined it would be. Luckily I love to sing because singing is part of every day. I live in better conditions than other volunteers I know, although we are very isolated and getting to anything recognisable as a town takes a whole day of uncomfortable travelling. I am now driving our 4WD to take the students to the markets to buy their food supply but it is followed by some active dreams at night. The girls do their own cooking in rosters and also slaughter their own buffalos, pigs and chickens (I am nearly a vegetarian now) and plant and tend their own corn and bean crops.

So far I have met the Australian Ambassador, former Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri and the Secretary of State, and have been too green to ask any pertinent questions. I have so much to learn. The religious in Timor are second in status to the Government and as I am now “Sister Ida”, I look forward to future contacts.

We have no landlines (so no internet) and the mobile network sends a signal when it feels like it. Getting any world news is impossible. We have six hours of electricity at night (tonight the Government has not remembered to send it – I am typing by candlelight). It is very, very hot and showering is by bucket and scoop (cold water only of course) and my washing is by hand in a concrete trough. The mosquitos just love me. In all the villages there is still only a single well or the river and water is carried on the women’s heads, as is the firewood for cooking. I had to carry water too when our pump failed and the mechanic of course did not come – it is very heavy but the girls all singing and laughing while they carry out this activity makes you just forget the difficulties.

The girls here are worth every effort I can give them – they manage to smile all the time and they have just nothing. Most are orphans or without fathers (lost in 1999) and in this culture that means poverty. Occupation has left their self-esteem and imagination at zero and I am working on that big time. Their culture is fascinating, the more I learn the more I want to know. Unfortunately and fortunately many elements of it will need to change to incorporate the modern world they are trying to enter. I think my two years here will go very quickly, achieve heaps and I am actually a little curious to know how I will feel at the end of it.

Ida

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If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. - African proverb