Monica Morrison: Monica Morrison’s CommUNITY News no. 1

Monica with Ida Greenway (Palms’ volunteer in Fuiloro)
I have been here almost four months now, and I was just reflecting on how remarkably quickly one adjusts to a completely new routine both for living and working. Life in a whole house, still being decorated and “improved” by number two son, who is in residence at Mollymook has given way to nights in a single room, often candlelit, and days in an office shared with Sister Diaan. Sounds of the sea have now been replaced with the whirring of fans, and carefully placed lamps for subtle light, by glaring fluorescent ones when they are working. Still I am happy.

The office building for the professional development team of the Teacher’s College is known locally as ” The White House” probably because it actually is a white building, but also maybe because it houses the Timorese staff who lecture to trainee teachers in the College, and the three volunteers who work with them in their study towards a Masters Degree, Sister Diaan, Brother Tony and me. The trainee teachers come over with their assignments very tentatively, even though their lecturers are only a few years older than they are. Quite often the staff are still eating breakfast, those quite delicious banana fried in batter morsels which you can buy along the roadside.

Yesterday, I gave my last lecture for this semester on Values Education using the latest Values Framework Report from Australia. We are fortunate that we do have access to the net unlike some other colleagues who are in more remote areas. Most of the Masters students are choosing Values Education for their essays so I worked hard on making it meaningful for them and in trying to relate it to the Timorese context. So far I have only seen three schools and I was saddened by their lack of resources and trained teachers. There is a long hard journey for these young future leaders in Education at Baucau to undertake.

I worked hard on making it meaningful for them and in trying to relate it to the Timorese context.

Monica with her Masters students
Our “lectures” are a cross between direct teaching , tutorials, and the modelling of various strategies for imparting knowledge and developing teachers. Yesterday, I was determined to have some fun with them as a finale, and to see how many of the concepts of a “whole school approach” they had grasped over the weeks. I did a role-play with their pretending we were at an international conference on Values Ed and I was a TV journalist interviewing them as participants. Pedro was the Minster of Education, a role he undertook with great seriousness; Francelina was a Principal of a school; and Aurea was a teachers’ college lecturer and mother to be (both of which of she is in reality).

I was so very proud of them. Pedro answered curly questions from a hostile “studio audience” on funding and teachers’ salaries (same here as everywhere) and Francelina had all the latest programs and ideas operational in her school even saying she was “working on” parent involvement which, from my limited experience in schools, seems to be a non-event here. Aurea was convincing and was a great advocate for her College in Baucau in terms of the teaching of Values, and she is hopeful for the future of education in East Timor for her first child. All of this was extremely encouraging for us as sometimes we get a little ground down by it all and think we will never make an impression.

All of this was extremely encouraging for us as sometimes we get a little ground down by it all and think we will never make an impression.

Monica with fellow volunteer Jack Dos Santos
Quite apart from work we have a very active social life. Ida, my Palms colleague, came over from Fuiloro last weekend with her daughter who was visiting, and hired a car to show her the community.

On Sundays, Brother John from the Marists, usually goes down the beach, so this weekend we were luxuriating in the warm water when a whole group of kids encouraged us to play ball with them. Easter was also very moving ….. the simple Stations of the Cross at Venilale with handmade signs on trees and what seemed like a goat track to walk along made it all seem very real.

There has not been much power over the last few days, and we all get very excited when it finally comes on again, even for a few hours. Our main aim is to eagerly look for news from home and I owe much gratitude to all the friends who so faithfully send me emails and text messages. They are so very important and keep us going for another day.

I hope all is well at Palms, and that you are continuing to find many new volunteers. I, for one, am so very grateful that I have had this opportunity, and only regret that I did not do it when younger. I guess I had other commitments then. One cannot begin to describe how much one learns from the experience of living in another culture. You learn about them but you also learn about yourself. East Timor seems like a second home now and I continue to be impressed by the many young volunteers who are filling various roles here in health, education, local government and community development. Their sincerity and commitment to social justice is very humbling.

All the best, Monica

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Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.
It is man made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. - Nelson Mandela