Michael and Cheree: Michael & Cheree Flanagan’s CommUNITY News no. 2

Cheree, Michael and the young people from Ahisaun
Dear Friends,

Welcome to our second CommUnity Newsletter, coming to you from Dili, Timor Leste. We continue to do well, both physically and emotionally, and are really enjoying life over here and progressing with our work at Ahisaun.

We are writing this with Christmas just having passed, and certainly we had a very different but beautiful Christmas this year. As you can imagine there weren’t the same preparations we experience in Australia. For one, there weren’t Christmas decorations adorning shops and streets from the last week of November. There is no culture of gift-giving and in general shops didn’t have Christmas ideas and sales everywhere one looked. And it was a bit different hearing the familiar Christmas Carols that the family we live with played, but not in English.

We share our lives together, our joys, our struggles, our everyday happenings…

However, two things from this Christmas will stay in our minds a long time. The first were the nativity scenes that groups of people erected in their neighbourhoods that were quite extraordinary. People erected little manger-type shelters and filled them with grass and sand and then put in life-size pictures of the Holy Family and some animals. They then would decorate them a bit with some tinsel, a Merry Christmas sign and the bigger ones even had some Christmas lights surrounding them. These were only erected in the week leading up to Christmas, most only being finished on Christmas Eve. It was a real Advent journey seeing these being prepared for the Day of Jesus’ birth.

Timorese children wave Australian flags in front of a nativity scene
The other thing that will stay in our minds is being at Mass on Christmas morning and singing the first verse to Silent Night in 8 different languages. Sitting there I was reminded that people all over the world would be celebrating exactly what we were celebrating in many different ways. It was wonderful to feel such a part of the International Church celebrating Christmas through this experience.

As for ourselves we had a lovely Christmas, celebrating it with our friends at our workplace. We don’t use that term lightly – ‘friends’ – as indeed our relationship with the young people and the volunteers at Ahisaun has evolved to much more than just work colleagues or clients. We share our lives together, our joys, our struggles, our everyday happenings, so it was only right that we spend Christmas with those who play such a big part in our time over here.

Ahisaun continues to be blessed with the many things it achieves and indeed we also continue to be blessed through our time here. A new year brings new challenges and expectations, but it also brings a chance to reflect on what has passed in the year previous. Last year saw many things happen that the people associated with Ahisaun can be very proud of and can also look forward with great hope. Among these is the purchase of some land in Dili which in time Ahisaun hopes to build a house on. Ahisaun’s current premises are borrowed from a local businessman, so this is indeed a big step for Ahisaun. In addition, 2005 saw the establishment and development of Ahisaun’s rural property which will provide food, housing and training to young people with disabilities in the near future.

The people of Ahisaun can be very proud and can also look forward with great hope.

Of more importance perhaps is the fact that the Ahisaun members continue to have the opportunity to attend school, be supported in their different challenges and take part in training and development. Towards the end of 2005 a donor from Australia organised for a short documentary of Ahisaun to be shot. In preparation of this we did some interviews with the members to see what they value most about Ahisaun. They all said they appreciate the opportunity to live together, with friends who support each other. You can imagine how lucky we are to work at a place where this is the common feeling among the people there.

As for ourselves, we continue to grow in our knowledge of the language and culture. We have found a fun outlet and a way of spending time with the children in our street. Each Wednesday evening they come over to our place for drawing and colouring in on the verandah. They never miss a week and would have us occupied every afternoon if they could. Also we had a beautiful, if sad, experience recently when a week-old baby of our neighbour’s died. The following day we went over to the house and were shown into a room where the baby was. We proceeded to pray over the baby with his parents for about half an hour and then shared tea with the family. After leaving we watched as family and friends arrived all day to do what we had done, and it wasn’t until all the family had arrived that they took the baby to be buried. It is the richness of experiences like this that keep us happy, motivated and able to ride out the times when we are lonely and miss our family, friends and the familiarity of home.

We wish you all a very happy and peaceful 2006!
Until next time,
Cheree and Michael

add to del.icio.us Digg it Stumble It! reddit facebook TwitterSHARE THIS PAGE

The poor themselves can create a poverty-free world —
all we have to do is to free them from the chains that we have put around them. - Muhammad Yunus