Now nine months in Atabae, Timor-Leste, where Veronica Chong is volunteer Community Development Officer, she sees the relationships formed as crucial to meaningful development in both communities and individuals, not least herself.
It is the sense of social justice that motivates me in this journey. I am currently volunteering in Atabae in the Aidabaleten sub-district; it is a remote village 2-3 hours from the capital city in Dili, Timor Leste. The village population is about 2,240 with an approximate of 2% growth per year. The villagers’ main source of income is through agriculture, others are in the area of health, education and small business.
My role here is as a community development officer that includes mentoring of individuals and project management. The objectives of community development work are aimed to build cohesive, active and sustainable communities that are based on social justice and mutual respect. It seeks to initiate the process of improving the social, cultural and economic life of the villagers to overcome poverty. Primarily it is about developing self-reliance in the individual to enhance their skills capacity to bring about growth/development that is sustainable. It’s the idea of give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will eat for a life time!
Linking and forming networks, collaborating and working with individuals, groups and other agencies, government and business are crucial. The interactions are via formal and informal methods to achieve connections within the local communities. Thus, the building of these relationships in the early stages of my placement is key to gaining the trust of the community and therefore I am now able to engage in purposeful dialogue and together work through the many needs, and attempts to promote a fairer distribution of resources within the community. It has no doubt been very challenging in the first six months, adapting to local culture, learning new languages, life-style issues, living conditions, isolation and the lack of infrastructures, such as access to water and electricity.
Then the hope of introducing new concepts, such as the fundamentals of community development, that of social justice, gender equality and empowering women in an entrenched patriarchal community is at times overwhelming. Overall, I feel privileged to have this opportunity to share my skills and experiences, but more importantly, the experiences that I have gained in the past 9 months through being involved with the local community have helped me to become a more discerning person when it comes to making decisions of community needs and projects to achieve its objectives.
by Veronica Chong
Food for thought…
Veronica sees close trusting relationships as crucial to to meaningful development contributions. Do we know of “development” examples where trust was lacking or relationships abused? What resulted?
Veronica struggles with some entrenched attitudes in the host community. Is our own society so different? Do we also find it so overwhelming to change or temper attitudes that we often simply accept them?