Inverell Rotary runs training course in East Timor

MEDIAONETIMOR-What would you say if you were asked to take a working holiday in a third-world country? A country with poor nutrition.  A country with a population that is dominated by youth, where the building code is drastically different to Australia’s. This was the challenge set for five volunteers by Timor veteran Bob Neich and the Rotary Club of Inverell.

Kerri Tom, Jason Tom, Meg Hanlon, Lauren Holder and Lisa Longhurst answered this challenge with a whole-hearted yes! Led by Kerri Tom, who was inspired during a visit to Timor in 2015 – the volunteers will continue to develop computer skills set by Rotary years earlier. This year the team is focusing on consolidating computer skills and furthering the knowledge of local TEKA (preschool) teachers. “I’m keen to provide a service they don’t have by expanding the technology skills to transfer into the classroom,” says Kerri, a teacher in Tingha.

“It’s been so exciting to work with the kids. It’s been a huge eye-opener to compare lifestyles of the Timorese and Australian children,” says Lauren, whose aspiration has been to work with children overseas. “I am so in love with the country already, the people smile with their whole faces,” says Meg, a graphic designer.

When the volunteers aren’t implementing computer skills in the mountain villages, they’ve enjoyed getting an up-close look at the daily lives of the Timorese people. “They are always open and willing to accept us all into their lives. They share their food, their stories and their smiles,” comments Kerri.

The trip coincided with election campaign rallies. “There were THOUSANDS of people, dressed in supporting colours, honking their horns and crammed into downtown Dili. It was such an adrenaline rush and beautiful to see the people so passionate,” says Meg.

“There were bikes, trucks, people on foot. It was incredible to see how many people could fit into the back of a truck, taking up every possible nook,” says Kerri.

“I was hesitant to come to Timor, but after only three days it has changed my perception about it – I want to come back and continue the work we’ve started,” says Lauren with a big smile on her face.

Eye-opening journey

Sixteen-year-old Caleb Pyle was going through life without a worry until an immersion trip last month to East Timor changed all of that.

Caleb was part of a team of nine students from St Paul’s Anglican Grammar School in Traralgon and Warragul which went to East Timor for a week as part of an ongoing program to help rebuild the South-East Asian nation after many years of strife.

“I was focusing on my own thing,” the year 10 student said.

“It made me think of the lifestyle that we have here.

“They don’t have fresh water there. They have to buy water.”

Traralgon team coordinator Kirsten Enders said Caleb’s reaction after the trip was expected as students got to know the challenges faced by kids in war-torn places.

“I think it’s life changing, kids learn that we have so much here but you do have people that aren’t very happy whereas over there people are so grateful for whatever it is that they have,” she said.

Ms Enders said Caleb “was a big hit” with the students at the local schools they visited, especially in Ponilala where a school was built from funds raised by St Paul’s Gippsland campuses.

Caleb said he and other St Paul’s students were “treated like celebrities” as locals gathered every time they visit a community.”We (students) got along really well,” he said.

Caleb said he enjoyed playing soccer and throwing a frisbee with local students and also experienced sleeping on a rolled mat on a concrete floor during the trip.

St Paul’s Traralgon and Warragul campuses were part of a group called Friends of Ermera, named after a district that was devastated during the East Timor crisis in 1999. The program has been running since 2002 with the school raising funds for communities and sending groups of students for immersion trips every two years.

Ms Enders said they have been doing a range of activities to raise funds for the program to continue assisting Ermera communities. She said the school might arrange another trip next year, but the participants would be parents and former students.(by CHER JIMENEZ/Etan/MediaOneTimor)

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