Our Volunteers: Louise Maher volunteering in Timor-Leste

Timor Lorosae Centre for Physical Rehabilitation, Timor-Leste

The Centre for Physical Rehabilitation

The Centre has been established to provide rehabilitation services to people with disabilities. The project initiated by overseas experts will be handed over after 7 years. The first stage of the project is the rebuilding and renovations of buildings on the site to provide a clinic and accommodation for people receiving treatment at TLSPR. As well as providing much needed services, the clinic provides an environment where people with disabilities can be assisted in accessing mainstream schools, jobs and other community facilities.

Louise will establish the community based rehabilitation (CBR) services, which will form an integral part of the work of the TLSPR. Louise will work to build the capacity of organisation already providing such services and identify areas to which TLSPR could add skills and value to the service. To ensure the long term sustainability of the services, Louise will identify locally trained physios who will receive specific training in the areas of maintenance and development of rehabilitation and CBR services.”

Louise Maher

Louise MaherLouise has worked as a physiotherapist in Cambodia, the UK and in Australia and has considerable experience as a clinical educator in those contexts, having a strong commitment to training. Louise feels that she has been very blessed in being able to develop skills which she wants to share with others to help them develop further. Her time in Cambodia had a significant impact on her and she wants to contribute and share more.

A letter of recommendation for Louise stated, “she is very resourceful and professional when it comes to dealing with people. People are drawn to her caring and bubbly nature as well as her deep faith and ability to share with people on a deeper level.”

Louise Maher’s CommUNITY News no. 2

April 12, 2005

Louise teaching a client's family about physiotherapy
Dear Friends,

Well, another three months in Dili has passed by, and I have now been here for six. Things continue to be so very real and enriching here.

So, for the last six months really we have been focusing on finishing the building site of the Timor Lo ro Sa’e Centre for Physical Rehabilitation (a new name, now we realize we will be doing lots more than just making prosthetics and orthotics), and getting all the negotiating done with government departments ,etc. The clinic is going so well, and I’m pleased to finally be able to report some achievements! It is finished, and looking really good, so my days as site supervisor are almost behind me. The last few traumas have involved grills, screens, septic tanks, more tile issues, plaster traps, water tanks, retention payments and the like…all those things that I know so much about! A few people have started recommending me lately for information about building in East Timor, which is interesting, until I realize I can actually answer most of their questions, which I then find extremely amusing. It is a great building, and so perfectly built for clinical services and making prosthesis, so we are really looking forward now to starting the services it was built for!

It seems to be a really great thing for their area that such an important clinic will be situated there.

I’ve also been organizing all the furniture and equipment for the clinic and wherever possible have tried to source local items or use local labor. A really lovely and mutually beneficial arrangement is that we have been getting lots of our furniture made in the local prison, from a project aimed at giving prisoners skills for when they get out; so I have had quite a few interesting visits there! We also had a lot of specialized equipment for making prostheses coming from Europe, and I learned a lot more about working within East Timorese bureaucracy trying to get that stuff off the docks and into the clinic (which took about five weeks!). Trying to get it all off the truck and into the clinic was a whole other story, involving about twenty men, a big forklift, broken tiles, and a lot of wet equipment and people!

Timor Lorosae Centre for Physical Rehabilitation (TLCPR)
We have been recruiting all the staff for the clinic also, which has been a real cultural lesson. For the positions like cleaner and guard we tried to recruit only very local staff from the immediate neighborhood called Becora where the clinic is, which is known for being a particularly poorer area of Dili. It seems to be a really great thing for their area that such an important clinic will be situated there, and we really hope it will be something they are proud of. So we had long consultations with the three local cheffes (chiefs) about who to interview and employ, and we now have some really lovely local staff: one admin person, a cleaner, a gardener and two night guards. My Tetum is improving exponentially since they came on board as I must speak with them daily!

For the last two weeks we have been trying to start the physio services, and to start referral processes etc. So each afternoon I am going down to Dili Hospital, starting to attend some of the hospital clinics and rounds, as well as do some work with the hospital staff providing some therapy. At the hospital I have began treating one of previous leaders of the Falantil, who has had a stroke, and he is a lovely patient, very lively and insightful and keen to improve. We have a lovely system whereby I am teaching him to walk better, while he teaches me to speak Tetum better!

We have started the recruitment process for the local staff who will work with me to learn therapy skills. There are no physiotherapists in the country, so we have decided to employ nurses, so that at least they will know some anatomy and physiology. They will probably start in June I think, once our service is slightly up and running, and some of the crinkles have been ironed out!

We have a lovely system – I teach him to walk better; he teaches me to speak Tetum better!

The grand official opening of the clinic is on April 14, so that will be a good milestone, and long awaited. We have strong links with government, because eventually they will run our clinic, so hopefully the Prime Minister and the President of Timor Leste will be there at our opening to give the clinic an official seal of approval! For those with internet access, have a look at www.asserteasttimor.com to hear more about our work here so far.

I was extremely happy and lucky to have my sister come up here to visit me over Easter, and we went for a drive over the holidays to explore a few places- went to Maubisse, a lovely little town high up in the mountains, and then to Baucau which is on the coast. Very lovely! It truly is such a beautiful island, I really feel so lucky that I can do a job like mine in such a beautiful place, it really does help to keep me peaceful and sane! Busy days at work are always balanced by a beautiful walk, swim, or beer down by the beach at sunset.

So I think that is enough news for now! Thanks again for all your care and support.


Food for thought

  • You can see that the teaching is not all one way for Louise—she has learnt many things, not least the Tetum language… Have you found yourself in a situation where you learnt something when you thought you were there to teach? What was the experience like?
  • Louise considers it a privilege to be working in such a beautiful country. She speaks of it keeping her peaceful and sane. In our lives which are often busy and lacking recreation, what might Louise's efforts to keep a balance in her days have to teach us? What needs to change in our lifestyles to achieve similar balance, sanity and peace? What might you need to give up? What might you need to take up? Why are such things important?

Louise Maher’s CommUNITY News no. 1

December 12, 2004

The issue of setting up physio services is huge and daunting – there are so many disabled people, often in hard to reach places, who have very limited options because of their disabilities, and there are basically no established physio or rehab services.

Click here to read the full article

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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 […]

More on Timor-Leste

There is both a moral and social responsibility attaching to these experiences of foreign cultures,
and if nothing awakens in our own soul, making claims and demands upon us,
calling us to change the way we live, then we have been merely parasites and invaders. - David Tacey