Lukas and Kristina: Lukas and Kristina ‘s CommUNITY News no. 2

Hi everyone, greetings once again from Timor!

Produce from Manuleu Markets
Thanks to all of you that have responded to our cry for chocolate. We’ve received and gratefully enjoyed many a Cadbury chocolate bar. Time has just flown by so fast that it’s hard to imagine that we have been in Dili for almost 5 months already. We’ve been keeping well and getting more accustomed to the heat and pace of life here. We have invested in a new mosquito net for our bed that actually lets the breeze from the fan through – and this has made all the difference to a good nights’ sleep. We’ve experienced many things and different emotions during our time and it would be impossible to try to convey it all but we would like to share with you some of our thoughts and experiences thus far.

Our work in Ahisaun has certainly grown over time as we have come to be more involved in working with the management committee and staff on different activities, planning sessions and projects. Although our workload has picked up we haven’t lost sight of the treasure that these kids are. It’s always a delight to spend time with the young kids at Ahisaun. Sharing a song, a laugh or a game of ping pong with some of the little one’s can bring a big smile to their face and ours and it just melts away any doubts about the meaning and value of being here.

Although our workload has picked up we haven’t lost sight of the treasure that these kids are.

Ahisaun provides accommodation, training and education opportunities for young people with a disability in Dili but it would also like to open up centres in the rural districts so that it can reach & offer opportunities to young people further afield. Our particular assignment here as volunteers is to provide support & advice in support of Ahisaun’s vision and on a practical level we work together in partnership with Ahisaun’s staff and members on a daily basis – seeking to build their internal capacity and skills in areas like financial management, bookkeeping, planning, project management and stakeholder communication. It is our hope that this patient and ongoing exercise will help the young people here in Ahisaun to grow in practical skill and confidence to take ownership of shaping their own future with a lesser and lesser reliance on external assistance.

We’ve found that trying to patiently build open and trusting relationships with the staff and members of Ahisaun has enabled us to gain an insight into how and why things work the way they do here and have opened us up to new possibilities of working together. Relationships are probably the most valuable and exciting area to make progress in probably also the easiest to misjudge. Sometimes of course we experience frustrations, disappointments, and doubts. Suppose it’s just the reality of working in another culture where miscommunication is bound to happen at some point and when you find that your expectations, work habits and views of what’s important are not necessarily shared with the people you work with. So we have found that a bit of self-reflection and reassessment of one’s own approach and expectations is a handy thing to do.

We have found that a bit of self-reflection and reassessment of one’s own approach and expectations is a handy thing to do.

In particular, we’ve come to experience for ourselves the importance of not rushing things but taking the time to adjust to the tempo of the local community. This has meant progressing at a different pace to what we are used to back at home but it’s the only thing we can do if we want to stay connected with the Timorese people and have a hope of transferring skills that will sustain beyond our time here.

Lukas and Kristina meet Nobel Peace Prize winner and Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta
We’ve come across so many UN people here – we’ve got to know some of them.  Many of them have however come for only relatively short periods of 4-12 months and consequently find it a frustrating experience. They come as we did with expectations of what they’ll be able to achieve during their time here but they soon find this to be unrealistic. But sadly, instead of re-evaluating, some seem to fall into the trap of pushing on with things independently at a pace that disconnects them with their local colleagues – trying in vane to finish, to get the output they’ve come to do only to loose sight of the outcome their seeking to achieve.

It’s puzzling for us to think of the number of times we’ve heard stories of wiz bang reports being written, plans being made, and websites being developed that fail to bring a sustainable benefit for the country. It’s not uncommon for such work to be conducted in the absence of a longer term commitment of support that is needed if it is to be sustainably embedded within Timor’s institutions and work practices. It seems to us that much of the outside world & UN presence in Timor is intent on progressing at its own pace and timeframes – which may be appropriate for Sydney, London or Washington but perhaps not for Timor. Timor after all has its own unique culture and history which influences its work practices and the country is also faced with the reality of limited infrastructure, communications and workforce capacity.

It’s true, it’s also been hard for us to accept that the outcomes we may like to achieve may not be possible in the timeframe that we would like but we remind ourselves that small sustainable gains are worth it. It’s often intangible things like seeing Ahisaun’s staff members growing in confidence, expressing the desire to try new things, to have a go and step out of their comfort zones that is most rewarding. For instance, one of Ahisaun’s members recently accompanied us to a meeting with AusAid and after some good preparation successfully made a presentation to international donors in English for the first time. Now they don’t think it’s so scary anymore! That’s pretty cool.

On a more balanced note, we have also encountered some amazing people and organisations that are doing some great work here – building the capacity of Timor’s teachers, caring for orphans, and teaching more productive agricultural practices. It’s always inspiring for us when we have the chance to meet such motivated, generous and committed people.

We have enjoyed visiting Ahisaun projects in the rural districts where they’ve established agricultural plots to grow food for their members.

Fr Adriano and Kristina discuss Ahisaun's new land
In the last couple of months we have enjoyed visiting Ahisaun projects in the rural districts where they’ve established agricultural plots to grow food for their members. We’ve also travelled up to the mountains and had the delight of watching people perform traditional cultural dance and song. We’ve also dipped into some tourist travel of our own over a long weekend and explored the furthest eastern most tip of Timor where the beaches are a sandy white and the waters are a crystal blue. We enjoyed some divine snorkelling there and had fun doing some adventurous four wheel driving in order to get there! Children waving and laughing as you pass through the villages is always a delight. They love to call out ‘malai’ ‘malai’ which is what they call foreigners. Most of the kids are very cute and behaving well. However we have had the odd experience where some kids throw a rock after we passed by. We wonder what kind of experience that they might have had with foreigners to do that. We have come across a few foreigners that are hardly setting a good example.

We have experienced some periods of illness – primarily in our second month here when both of us were out of action for a month. That was really tough, not only because of the discomfort and uncertainty of how things would work out but also because it separated us from the community around us and disrupted relationships we were making with people at work and where we live. But thankfully we survived this tumultuous time and have been well enough to get into work and explore some of the delights of Timor’s countryside.

We’re all hopeful this will help to generate healthier and more plentiful crops from their veggie patch.

At the Dili Marathon
More recently we had fun participating in the Dili marathon together with a diverse group of people with a disability – the 5km fun was more Kristina’s and my cup of tea! We’ve also being having some fun starting up composting activities together with our friends at Ahisaun. We’re all hopeful this will help to generate healthier and more plentiful crops from their veggie patch. Next week President Jose Ramos Horta is coming to visit Ahisaun so preparations are under way and there’s some excitement in the air. And in a couple of months time we’re looking forward to attending Timor’s first national music festival, which will be hosted in the picturesque mountain village of Hatubuilico. Ahisaun has quite a few kids who sing and play really well so they’ve also been invited to perform which is very exciting. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some front row seats.

We hope life back in Australia is going well and we look forward to hearing from you.

Lukas & Kristina

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