Louise Maher: Louise Maher’s CommUNITY News no. 1

Greetings from Timor Leste, where I have been for almost three months now, and where the blissful rainy season has just begun! Firstly, I must say thankyou for all your support, interest, and care from afar, I truly feel blessed!

This is such a special place with wonderful people . I am living with a local family of about 20 people, and am loving getting to know them. I look forward to having local patients and colleagues as well, and to developing connections with them.

Timor Leste is a really beautiful island. And extremely poor. Of course I expected poverty, but it is still confronting observing the daily reality and struggle that this creates for most of the people. It is impossible to live here and not constantly reflect on the large divide between the haves and have-nots of our world. These people don.t really have even the most basic access to water, food, energy, education, & health care that we in Australia assume is our right.

It is really interesting & quite confronting being in a place where dramatic & tragic events are so recent.

My time so far has been settling in and preparation. I am learning more about Timor Leste: meeting people, hearing their stories, and learning more of their history, culture, and language. I am also learning the quick backstreets, working out which markets sell the best vegies, the best place for a $1 lunch, and the nicest beach, etc. Dili is a bit busy at times: traffic, lots of people, etc. It also has that lovely layer of Asian chaotic yet sleepy ways that I love – having to slow down to let a pig or a goat amble across the road. I.m driving around happily adopting the local non-compliance to road rules and generally starting to view as the norm all those things that seemed really foreign and unique on arrival.

My Tetum speaking has improved a lot with more lessons and practice up here – I can get my message across mostly, with some fairly funny misunderstandings, however I can only understand people well when they speak in slow motion! I actually gave a speech in Tetum last week, so I must be going OK!

It is really interesting and quite confronting being in a place where dramatic and tragic events are so recent. A few weeks ago we were driving and our friend showed us an innocuous looking place where a huge massacre happened only six years ago- it is impossible to stop at such a place and not be entirely overwhelmed. And of course I speak with many people who openly tell their stories of losing loved ones, and the fear and oppression they lived with for so long. It is just so depressing and frustrating, and I admire so much that they seem to cope. They are such strong and resilient people, and there is a strong feeling here that this is a nation slowly getting back on its feet.

The issue of setting up physio services is huge and daunting – there are so many disabled people, often in hard to reach places, who have very limited options because of their disabilities, and there are basically no established physio or rehab services. There are no physios really, and the question of whom we train and how we train is challenging. So we have our work cut out for us. At this stage we are just having lots of conversations about what is the best way to start and to work, and how this will happen logistically. I think we will always feel a bit over-whelmed, but the thing I keep in mind is that something is better than nothing.

There are no physios really, and the question of whom … and how we train is challenging.

Work wise we are busy trotting around town setting things up. I am really missing my clinical work and can’t wait to get started – there is so much need. We went to a small district hospital and I saw about 5 stroke patients basically languishing flat on their back doing nothing, and found it really hard not to stay there for a month to treat them. I am seeing so many patients who I know could really benefit NOW from some good rehab physio, and there really isn.t anywhere else for them to go. It’s hard to keep the big picture plan of the project and capacity building in mind when you have desperate patients in front of you that you can really help.

I am trying to keep the big picture in mind though, and remember I am here to do three things – help get the clinic set up and running, provide physio clinical services, and work with our local staff so they learn the basics of physiotherapy. First things first, so the planning and set up stage now means we are busy meeting other people who work in health and disability here, visiting hospitals and clinics, discussing with government departments on where the clinic fits in with their plans, and starting to set up some basic structures for how the clinic will run. It will be great to be a real physio again next year though, and I look forward to telling you all about that in the next letter!

I feel very lucky to be here, and am quite happy and very inspired. Wishing you all a Christmas full of peace and joy. Much love,


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Friendships grow between people of different backgrounds and cultures because they meet as persons, not because they share a common heritage.
Such friendships grow because we all belong to the largest group of all, the human race. - Jean Vanier