Mim and Damian: Sustainable and healthy development

Digging drainage
Padre Ola is now working in Dili, but as a parting gift built a new concrete pig-pen. The new padre Gonsalos has set a fantastic precedent of tethering the goats. Like a lot of environmental law back home, tethering livestock is often talked about and agreed upon as the right thing to do – but not always done. We think a lot about Terry Leahy’s writing about communities which manage the conflict between subsistence farmers with livestock, and those relying solely on their gardens for income and food.

With the pigs and goats now restrained, we have new certainty and Mim has been spending the final months of the wet season to prepare beds and plant seeds donated by the Blue Mountains Food Co-op and brought by Damian’s brother, Simon. We’re trying out new types of beans and veges with key nutrients. And we’re on the look out for good, tropical high altitude cover crops that might work in rotation with potatos. Suggestions welcome. European potatos, the main cash crop, are experiencing on going issues with fungus, rust and nematodes. Small improvements in agricultural yields for key crops could make a small but appreciable difference to the livelihood of many people.

Mim’s also been walking to villages around the valley to either deliver or simply join in on community workshops on composting, terracing and organic pest control. Timorese are accustomed to collective hands on effort and little encouragement is needed for everyone to participate in practical learning. The addition of the camera certainly adds to the excitement of the event.

A few younger people who want to practice their computer skills are helping to produce simple photo based ‘recipes’ of these new agricultural practices. Photos are still rare, prized possessions here, so we’re hoping that that if people star in their own education materials they stand a better chance of being discussed and passed around.

People are also very keen for the written word, and Seniora Lorenza (right) is willing to help translate the materials into the local dialect – Mambae. We’re just not sure how things are spelt, as it’s a spoken language. It seems that anything we can do to promote and encourage reading and writing is worthwhile.

On the water front, the application we wrote to the National Government’s Water Program (through AUSAID”s “BESIK” program) was successful. Two new gravity water supply systems are now being built to National Standards by community volunteers and a Timorese NGO. About 10 tap and tankstands will provide water to over 250 people. Both systems will be maintained by an elected group of local volunteers, that is legally recognized to collect small contributions from villagers for system maintenance. Around the world, professionals from the water and sanitation recognize that building new infrastructure in least developed countries is not enough. With Africa described by one as ‘a litany of failed well projects’ it is hoped that Timor Leste can benefit from the lessons learnt about sustaining water and sanitation services.

On the Clinic front, Damian has had some challenging cases which have kept him busy visiting adults, pregnant women and children too sick to get to the clinic. His network of ‘phone a friend’ Doctors and specialists has been getting a workout, and are very much appreciated especially Dr Margaret Gibbons, Dr Brian Ralliegh and Dr Phil and Dr Dan Murphy of Bairo Pite Clinic. We’re pleased to say we’ve had two people agree to undertake necessary orthopaedic corrective surgery in Dili, which we hope will encourage others to find the courage in the future. Whilst others have been connected with specialist consults.

Two young women from Taurema are spending 3 months in community midwife training at the Bairo Pite Clinic in Dili. And we’ll be looking to continue this support for other community volunteers, to increase the knowledge and capacity of remote communities within the sub district. Taureme is very remote – it’s 2 hours walk from Hatubuilico and Damian has started up a weekly clinic with encouragement from Jude Finch and Isaac (a particularly persistant local advocate) ! Damian has also just finished helping facilitate training of café cooperative clinic staff in basic nursing skills and hopes to continue the relationship with this program. In July he is going to be translating for some village health worker training in Maubisse in July, with visiting nurse educator Dr John Grutens from the University of Sydney. In return, we’ve been invited to send along four trainees from the remote villages around Hatubuilico. We hope to continue to support this basic ‘entry level’ health training for rural people into the future.

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The future of every community lies in capturing the passion, the imagination and the resources of its people. - Ernesto Sirolli