News: Letters from the field: farewell Ellie

Often when it comes time to return home, our volunteers are overwhelmed by the gratitude shown by their host communities for their time living and working together. The gratitude is a genuine expression of a meaningful, mutual relationship developed as a result of a willingness by guests and hosts to work with people of a different culture. It is the living justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly of Palms’ values which enables relationships of solidarity to be built and for placements to have meaningful outcomes from beginning to end and beyond.

Over the next four pages, we share the stories of Ellie and Donna who have epitomised Palms’ values in their approach to cross-cultural relationships.

Ellie Virgona recently completed two years in Ermera, Timor-Leste working with local teachers to develop effective teaching skills for the East Timorese context.

It was the most amazing farewell. I don’t think I could’ve even dreamt it up.

Ellie's students farewell her with a traditional tais
That busy Tuesday on the 24th August, my Gleno students had planned a goodbye ceremony at the District Administration (D.A.) office in the afternoon at 3pm, to farewell me. Three students came by my home in the morning for me to check/correct their English in their speeches and songs. Then I had to dash down to the Senior High School to meet with a group of students who wanted some guidance to start up their ‘English Study Club’ (ESC). I was a little late as I dashed down for the second time to the D.A. office, dehydrated and perspiring. Thankfully nothing starts on time in TL.

A few swigs of water and I entered the staffroom, which had become our English classroom towards the end, and it was ‘officially’ set up. My students did it all. All I did was prepare my speech. Jose was the MC, Filomeno gave a speech on behalf of group B and Ranu gave a speech on behalf of group A. These two boys with one of my other students, Teo, were later to sing me two songs with guitar accompaniment. My heart sang with them. My female students prepared food for a light snack to share, and set the table for a feast. Later on they became the paparazzi.

The gift giving of ‘Tais’ is a custom when you arrive and leave. I was already perspiring, but by the end of receiving about eight of them around my neck I was melting. Towards the end one of my other students, Saturnino said, “We hope you felt loved Teacher.” That’s exactly how I did feel. Such an explosion of joy and appreciation filled me that I couldn’t cry, I just felt so incredibly alive. (Which of course has made it so much more difficult to leave.)

At the end there was the request for emails, phone numbers and an announcement by Saturnino that said, “Hey, how about we walk
teacher home?”

“Bele!” came the collective reply. All the way home, three talented students played their guitars, and the entire student body became the chorus. Of course, I had to stand out in front all by myself, but I still felt the love.

In this moment I just prayed that God was taking a video snapshot of this. I hope when I get to heaven, he plays the rerun for me.

Ellie

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And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. - Marianne Williamson