Our Volunteers: Michael & Cheree Flanagan volunteering in Timor-Leste

Ahisaun Foundation, Timor-Leste

Fr Adrian Ola, the founder of Ahisaun Foundation, with some of its members.
Ahisaun provides housing, outreach and training for young people with disabilities. Ahisaun works out of a house in Comoro, Dili, the capital of East Timor. Currently 9 young people live in the house (active members), supported by three volunteers. Ahisaun also supports many young people with disabilities who live in the community (passive members).

The house is also used as a training centre for both its active and passive members. In addition Ahisaun has recently been given some land at a place called Manuleu (45 minutes from Dili). Ahisaun has built a house there which will house about 4 – 6 young people and a couple of volunteers who will work to cultivate the land and farm animals. The house was blessed recently.

‘Ahisaun’ means brotherhood fire (or spirit). The name was used in the past to describe the equal relationship between two kingdoms. Timorese kings would light an Agreement Fire when forming an alliance, this fire was called Ahisaun. Following the fire they lived an equal and peaceful life together. Ahisaun is used to symbolise the equal partnership between all people, despite disability.

Michael & Cheree Flanagan

Michael & Cheree FlanaganAhisaun Foundation placed a request with Palms Australia for a therapist/co-ordinator and a development manager to improve services to young people with disabilities and to train staff.

Cheree and Michael lived and worked with the Ahisaun community for one year building capacity and making life-long friendships.

Continuing a Longitudinal relationship with Ahisaun (new placements)

December 11, 2009

The concept of relationships is the central theme of the Palms philosophy. We encourage our volunteers to live in their new community for at least six months, building up networks, relationships, understanding and situational awareness before they try to make any changes to the way things are done.

Beyond the volunteer, Palms as an organisation believes very strongly in maintaining strong and healthy relationships with our partners, those communities and organisations who host Palms volunteers. Just one of these many “organisational” relationships has been the one with the Ahisaun Disabilities Foundation, in Dili, East Timor.

The first Palms volunteers to work with Ahisaun, Michael and Cheree Flanagan, arrived in Timor in early 2005, at a time when Ahisaun was using a loaned house for the residence and office. Cheree said, about her first days, “I spent the first week in tears! We taught English all day, and didn’t stop for lunch because there was no food”. Michael and Cheree worked well with the Ahisaun staff and members, and developed a working relationship between Ahisaun and New Zealand Aid while they were there. Unfortunately 14 months into their placement they were evacuated in April 2006, and didn’t return because of Ahisaun’s concern that things still weren’t settled in Dili.

In late 2006, Daniel Gilfillan went to work with Ahisaun and picked up where Michael and Cheree had left off. Through linkages with the Podmore Foundation in Australia and the Embassy of Japan, Daniel and Ahisaun’s Director, Mario, were able to arrange for the construction of a purpose-built facility for Ahisaun; their own place to replace a house on loan, with a greater capacity for male and female members.

Lukas and Kristina
By this stage, in partnership with Palms, Ahisaun as an organisation was beginning to be noticed in Timor, by Government and international organisations. Mario, however, felt that Ahisaun still didn’t have the skills “in-house” to keep the momentum going. Through the Palms Reverse Immersion program, sponsored by the Podmore Foundation, Angelino from Ahisaun came to Sydney to complete three months work experience at Palms. Angelino’s English has dramatically improved, as has his understanding of supporters’ need for information. He has seen the administration in the Palms office, and he has developed new networks of support for Ahisaun. We are also learning much about Timor-Leste, disability and Ahisaun by hosting Angelino.

Mario had already requested more volunteers from Palms before Angelino came to Australia. Ahisaun is very keen to capitalise on Angelino’s experience, and Lukas Rajnoch and Kristina Gunawan will provide Angelino with support and reinforcement as he puts his new skills, knowledge and awareness into action on his return. Kristina will also be working with Ahisaun’s treasurer and secretary to build up their financial management skills, using small business projects as a practical base. Lukas will work closely with Angelino and Mario on their agricultural projects, as a project manager, mentor and mentee.

Longitudinal relationships, such as that between Ahisaun and Palms, result in more effective development. Each volunteer builds on the work of the previous one, but in different areas, reflecting Ahisaun’s changing needs. In this way, the process does not stagnate, dependency is avoided and new directions can be explored. Central to this process are mutual respect, dialogue and flexibility.

Partner’s Perspective: a letter from Ahisaun

March 23, 2009

We met many people from Palms’ organisation who supported us, including Mr Michael and Mrs Cheree, who returned to Australia following security concerns in 2006. Following this we received two new volunteers, Mr Daniel and his wife Mrs Beth.

Click here to read the full article

New placements for 2007

March 23, 2007

Listed below are five of the confirmed placements for the coming year. We are seeking CommUnity Partners for these and several others which are currently being finalised.

Click here to read the full article

More articles

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Population: 1,292,755

Area: 15,007 sq. km.

Median Age: 21.5

Literacy: 58.6 %

Languages: Tetum, Portuguese, Indonesian, about 16 indigenous languages

A brief history of independence. mid 1500s – Timor colonised by Portugal 1859 – Portugal cedes West Timor to the Dutch 1942-1945 – Japan occupies East Timor 28 November 1975 – East Timor declared independent from Portugal 7 December 1975 – invaded and occupied by Indonesia. It is estimated that 100,000 to 250,000 were killed […]

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True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice. - Martin Luther King Jr