Our Volunteers: Leanne Hayes volunteering in Timor-Leste

Balibo Community Learning Centre

The Balibo Community Learning Centre (Balibo CLC) provides several services to people in the community, including computer training, mechanical workshop training, English classes and training for rural women’s cooperatives. With the community facing high youth unemployment, the centre provides an opportunity for local people to gain valuable vocational skills and training. The Balibo CLC requested an Institutional Development Officer to build the capacity of their team to design, manage and evaluate development and training activities in partnership with the community. By increasing participation in the CLC’s programs and increasing revenues for the mechanical workshop and women’s cooperatives, the centre saw great potential for a volunteer to strengthen the entire community.

Leanne Hayes

Leanne HayesPalms Australia recruited Leanne Hayes, a Policy Officer from Queensland, for this position at Balibo CLC. With years of experience in policy and administration, and having studied project and event management and business information technology Leanne is well equipped for the task. Leanne had already given her time as a volunteer to several organisations in Australia has been described as a person who is “very driven and dedicated to doing good.”

On joining Balibo CLC in February 2013 Leanne immersed herself in the traditions and culture of Timor Leste, learning the local language and the troubled history of Balibo from the community. In turn she shared many aspects of Australian culture and formed strong networks between overseas visitors to Balibo and partners in the CLC. Her community links have enhanced her mentoring of local staff in computer skills, financial management and business processes, enabling them to deliver services more efficiently.

Since ending her placement at Balibo in August 2015, Leanne has returned to Australia and joined the Palms staff.

Meeting East Timor’s Famous Leader

March 24, 2015

by Dianne Woo, with photographs by Heather Henderson

Xanana Gusmao, the charismatic former Prime Minister of East Timor, is a legend in his country. When Atabae’s Community Education Team, led by Palms’ volunteer, Heather Henderson, attended the opening of the historic Balibo Fort Hotel in Bobonaro Province, they were delighted to see that he was Guest of Honour.

Mr Gusmao, 68, who was also President of East Timor and is now Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment, was a resistance fighter who fought pro-Indonesian forces to ultimately secure the nation’s independence in 2002. He is highly respected and admired in East Timor for his commitment to the country and his easy affability with everyone, from village to city.

Gusmao Xanana and Maria

Former East Timor Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, kisses Maria of the Atabae Community English Programme

During his visit to the Balibo Fort Hotel, Mr Gusmao enthusiastically agreed to be photographed with the excited Atabae team. English trainer Maria was even more surprised, and thrilled, when he kissed her on the forehead!

Heather and her team had been invited to Balibo opening by Palms’ volunteer, Leanne Hayes, who is working with the local community to develop skills and knowledge-based applications at the Balibo Community Learning Centre. In the course of her work, Leanne has developed a strong collaborative relationship with the Balibo House Trust, which was behind the restoration of the 374-year-old Portuguese fort and its adjoining hotel.

Some  Atabae team members with Xanana Gusmao.  From left, Migi,  Dianne Woo, Xanana Gusmao, Maria and Jhon.

Some Atabae team members with Xanana Gusmao:   From left- Migi, Dianne Woo, Xanana Gusmao, Maria and Jhon.

Balibo is a name which resonates with many Australians because of its association with the Balibo Five, a group of Australian journalists who were murdered, in the course of their work, by Indonesian forces in 1975. The mission of the Balibo House Trust is to honour the memories of the Balibo Five by enriching the lives and livelihoods of the Balibo people. Its Patron is Steve Bracks, the former Premier of Victoria from 1999 to 2007.

Also attending the Balibo Fort Hotel’s official opening was Trust Director, Shirley Shackleton, widow of slain journalist, Greg Shackleton. Mrs Shackleton described the event as “a wonderful day” which put the spotlight on the Timorese people. She was very happy to pose with the Atabae Community Education Team, who departed saying that it had indeed been a memorable day.

Meeting Shirley Shackleton: From left- Migi, Heather Henderson, Abel, Shirley Shackleton, Amori and Maria


Dianne Woo, from Clagiraba QLD, recently arrived in the Atabae Community, Timor Leste where she volunteers as Community Development Officer. Heather Henderson is now completing her placement at Atabae where she has volunteered since April 2013. Leanne Hayes has been working with the Balibo Community since February 2013 as volunteer Institutional Development Officer, building the capacity of staff at the Community Centre, conducting training and co-ordination community development projects.


Patience and positive change in Balibo

February 16, 2015

Balibo Community Learning Centre (CLC) in Timor Leste is based around the Australia Flag House memorial to the Balibo Five. The Learning Centre provides several services to the local community, including computer training, mechanical workshops, English classes and mentoring of rural women’s cooperatives. Leanne Hayes from Brisbane has volunteered as Institutional Development Officer at Balibo […]

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Valuable feedback

August 14, 2013

Balibo CLC Staff

“The approach of Palms volunteers was noticeably different to other volunteer sending organisations.”

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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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I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands
to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. - Mohandas Gandhi