Greg Bourne: Greg Bourne’s CommUNITY News no. 1

A Timorese mother and child
Hi Everyone,

Big news from Baucau. We have had 24 hour power everyday for the last three weeks. It goes off for about five minutes every two hours but it is much better than generators running all the time and I expect it will be much cheaper in the long run for the college.

The news from the staff residence is that we have now a definitive comment about Ansa, Anche’s 14 year old sister who has been living in the residence since the beginning of the year. When I came back after Christmas she was in the Baucau hospital and she has been with us since then. On Wednesday she went to Dili for an examination by a team of Australian doctors who were able to confirm that she does have a heart condition – in fact two holes which need to be fixed – but it cannot be done in the country.

Ansa looks like becoming a major focus in a short documentary that is going to be made about the need for improvement of the hospitals in Dili. This group of Australian doctors has a film crew with them and they are making a film to take back to Australia to show corporate sponsors who will be encouraged to make a sizeable donation for a new hospital in Dili. The film-making team is confident that when the corporate sponsors see the bit about Ansa they will also make sure that her lot in life takes an about-turn. They say she is a good candidate for special help. That is good. However when you know the person it probably is not good enough. What happens if the corporate sponsors cannot and do not help? A shortened life of very low quality!? I will keep you posted!

I have spent this month working with the staff and students… expanding their knowledge of science.

Timorese children wave Australian flags in front of a nativity scene
Felisiano’s (another one from the staff residence) sister in law died in Venilale (30km from here) on Friday. She had been sick for over a week. She was being treated with traditional medicine in the village. Felisiano had been trying to get his relatives to bring her to Baucau to the hospital. They did decide sometime early Friday to bring her to Baucau but it was too late. This is a fairly common occurrence here. It is difficult to get people to the hospitals and I suspect quite threatening for them and I also suspect they do not have the money for the transport (usually less that $1). They resort to other methods of treatment which usually do not work. It happens too often in childbirth – the mother goes into labour – has difficulty – and the local knowledge is low and quite unscientific – and when the decision is made to do something it is too late.

I have spent all of this month working with the staff and students of the college. One or two staff members in the morning and then a group of students in the afternoon – usually expanding their view and knowledge of science. We have collected materials form the beach, done some fairly simple chemistry and investigated the properties of lenses and prisms. We have also prepared a science exhibition that will be on show during the graduation weekend November 17, 18 & 19. From there we shift parts of it to Dili on Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st for a science teachers’ workshop.

During October and November I will continue running Science Teachers’ Workshops in the districts of Baucau, Los Palos and Viqueque. We are trying to develop a science fair concept to take to schools and villages. We will try it once or twice and see what happens. The UNESCO grant that I am working with has a budget line to provide the incredibly under resourced schools with some basic science equipment. I have been working with an importer in Dili and a science supplier in Jakarta to see if I can get some equipment into the country. It is looking good and I expect my first shipment soon.

The situation in Dili is still unstable but better than before. We hear rumours of a big demonstrations but they do not happen – people leave Dili because they expect trouble. There are still intermittent acts of violence and house-burning. The rumours are that some of the houseburning is well organised and certainly in some cases someone has paid those with the fire sticks to set particular houses alight. It is not a simple situation of bored gang members. I am sure that some has a political undertone and some of it is controlled by the crime bosses of Dili. Some people here wonder if there is outside money involved in the matter. The young people doing it are often the pawns of others.

Stop press for Sunday afternoon: A reliable source in Dili has reported that the Fretilin Headquarters has been set on fire. This could be a rumour but if it did happen then it could be bad. Fretilin members will look for someone to blame and it could start a new round of stupid reprisals. More burning etc. etc.

Peace can be established by peaceful means.

In recent days I have read an email in which a returning Australian visitor was critical of the Australian Army and the Australian Federal Police. Did you know that the Australian Federal Police have built a proper fence around their compound and they have installed a security gate at its entrance? The email was critical of this – however on reflection the police headquarters in all capital cities are much the same. They are hard to get into which is good because people cannot get in and steal their equipment and guns. It does give the hard working men and women some respite and safety. I am sure that their families are relieved to know that they are adequately protected.

The Army came in for some not-unexpected criticism. I saw that on the TV when I was in Australia. The Australian soldiers were not doing enough to stop the burning and looting. I know that some East Timorese people were disappointed that they did not stop other people from burning their house. They are used to problems being solved by a bit of killing and fighting. I think we should be proud of the restraint shown by the Australian Army. They are showing that peace can be established by using peaceful processes. This process takes longer but can be more effective in the long run. It is a great example for the East Timorese. However there is frustration on both sides.

I realise that there is a greater philosophical debate on why the Australian Government is having a military presence in East Timor. It would be better if that matter was taken up at home than have criticism poked at the people here doing a good job.

I am now in my last three months of placement here. I expect to arrive back in Australia just before Christmas and start looking for some work that will keep me busy in the future.

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A partnership is not about money changing hands. A true partnership is about ideas changing minds. - Jan Vandemoortele