Our Volunteers: Kevin Wilson volunteering in Timor-Leste

Organisaun Haburas Moris

Haburas Moris is a Timorese non-governmental organisation (NGO) working to improve the lives of people in Bobonaro District in Timor-Leste.  Their comprehensive programs include priority areas of agricultural development and food security; women’s development and health; and environmental sustainability. Haburas Moris employs 22 Timorese staff and has previously hosted numerous other Australian volunteers. They have indicated that having had volunteer advisors previously, they are now “looking for a person who can integrate into our organization and help build capacity from within rather than act as an advisor only”. The managing director of Haburas Moris placed a request with Palms Australia for a Field Staff Supervisor to work with local staff in the villages, to enhance their capacity and improve their confidence in their ability to continue running their programs successfully.

Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson is a keen adventurer, hiker, chorister and painter who has previously volunteered with Palms Australia in Bougainville. Kevin brings experience in managing people, facilities and projects, including education and community projects in a post-conflict environment during his previous placement. Possessing “highly qualified capabilities” and “a man of integrity who has fair, honest and friendly dealings with others” are just some of the wonderful things his past and present colleagues said about Kevin. Kevin will build upon the work of previous Palms Australia volunteers in promoting locally-owned development for the people of Bobonaro.

From Buka to Maliana

May 14, 2013

Kevin with Anaflora and MarcelinoI have now been working at Organisaun Haburas Moris in Maliana for about five months. OHM is a local NGO operating at the grass roots level, fostering various income generation and community development projects for the surrounding communities in the Bobonaro districts.

This location is very different to my first placement in Bougainville. It is much more developed, with shops, eateries and even mostly reliable electricity. The scenery is much like the Kimberley or Northern Territory (with Eucalypts and Casuarinas). Both the seasons – dry and wet – are very severe.

When I first arrived in Dili it was very hard to see where the need is. Dili’s fortress embassies, international aid compounds, tourist hotels and shopping centres, give ‘culture shock’ a whole new meaning. Of course, even in Australia, First and Third Worlds exist side by side and Dili reflects just one of Timor Leste’s great challenges as a nation: neo-colonialism. Every international government, aid agency, corporation etc. seems to want a piece of this tiny country. Is this the inevitable result of a small nation gaining ‘independence’ today?

Scratching the surface though and meeting the people on the street, you will find the situation for Timorese is more difficult with a lack of services, education, equality, employment and prospects. Out in the rural districts this becomes even clearer, which is where we come in.

My work as OHM Field Staff Supervisor officially is to assist the organisation’s project managers and co-ordinators, building their reporting capacity and management skills. This is more difficult than it might sound, as the people are extremely skilled already! This means that I spend time working in the surrounding villages, immersing myself in the communities and getting my hands dirty.

My first official trip was to Marobo working on a poultry project for the Soelesu community. Soelesu is a very rocky mountain village with poor shallow soils. The main staple crop is maize with occasional tarot and banana while herding of goats and pigs is the other main activity. The object in this OHM sponsored project is for the community to obtain young chicks and raise them to maturity when they are sold for a profit, supplementing the village’s subsistence economy.

Getting the poultry project started of course meant a few days building a manu luhan (chook-house) with local material. It is always a pleasure to participate in a village building project, witnessing the various crafts, knowledge, effort and co-operation which the whole community brings and shares.

This time however I was also struck by the practical leadership and co-ordination skills of the OHM staff: Mana Anaflora, Mana Honoria, Maun Marcelino and Maun Carlito. The Soelesu folk were perfectly confident that Marcel knew what he was talking about and the requirements of such a project, while Marcel had the same confidence in their abilities.

I think people were a bit impressed with how I handled a machete and cut bamboo. They made a few comments in the local Tetun, which I hardly understood but the gist was “You’ve done this before”. In turn, my faith in the perfectionism and skill of the builders was affirmed when an intense storm broke and we had to take shelter in the manu luhan. The heavy wind and rain lasted over 3 hours yet the half-built structure did not shift or even leak.

A week later we boxed up 74 month-old chicks at the OHM office while we waited for the transport. This was an anguna, an old truck full of people, their produce and livestock. This one had sacks of cement, rice, potatoes, goats and 20 human passengers. Anaflora, Honoria and I then boarded with five boxes of chickens which couldn’t be stacked anywhere and had to be constantly reorganised and protected as we climbed the rocky road. We picked up another goat with owner (more reorganising), set down one goat half way and were almost at our destination when we had to re-shuffle everything and everybody to unload the cement. At one stage, one of the sacks came to life with a squeal, stood up and assumed a distinct pig shape.

Anyway despite several chicks temporarily escaping on the journey through their air holes, we arrived at Soelesu with a proper count, including one which unfortunately died on the way. The rest were all fed, watered and content in their new home. We sent three extra chicks the next day by motor bike.

Community immersions like this remind me of my time on Bougainville, where I took part in many local building projects and was a regular PMV passenger. We didn’t have goats but the roads were worse.

The Soelesu poultry project was just the start of my life in Timor Leste and my experiences since have been just as interesting and positive, yet always different. One constant though is the ability of the OHM staff to fully integrate with each community during a project’s implementation. Not only do they work together on a building, but they share meals, accommodation, domestic chores and life in general. It reflects my own aspirations as a Palms volunteer and, I expect, those of my peers.

Kevin Wilson, previously volunteered with Palms in Tunaniya, Bougainville. He has now joined the team at OHM which supports people in the Bobonaro District of Timor-Leste.


Inspiring women drive change

February 18, 2013

OHM is the only local NGO still to be in operation in the whole of Bobonaro district. We worked diligently on submissions – not knowing if/when the project might be cancelled.

Click here to read the full article

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Timor-Leste

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 […]

More on Timor-Leste

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