The day after your final IB and VCE exam…. OK you’ve got 24 hours to relax and take it easy before getting on a plane to Darwin, sleep a few hours at the airport, then getting on another plane and exit into the tropical heat of Dili. This is how a dozen of Kardinia International College’s year 12 students chose to complete their secondary education.
Education of a different sort you might say. Since 2010 Kardinia has been offering the chance to go to a small village in East Timor called Viqueque to volunteer instead of a traditional schoolies trip. This year we carried funds from the Geelong Viqueque Friendship Schools to refurbish the Cabira School library, a printer and a very large speaker for 01 Viqueque School. That was the easy part.
For the next 2 weeks we travelled to and from Viqueque and busied ourselves as best we could in the community. Two weeks was clearly not enough time to develop a deep understanding of the Timorese culture but it was enough time to appreciate the beauty of this small country as well as the layers and depth of the issues facing the worlds newest nation.
Our physical tasks this year involved painting of the staff administration building and two classrooms at Viqueque one School which was done over 3 days. But as we were to discover, this journey is not a one way event and there was a great deal for our group to learn about the country they had come to. Our immersion into Timorese culture took many forms, from the happy carefree manner in which the local children adopted us as their new playmates, the friendly curiosity of the school students, Sunday mass at the local church, visits to the local swimming spot, soccer game with 01 students and the boundless hospitality of Mariano da Silva (pictured above with Jonathon) and his family. Much of our limited time was spent just seeing how life was and forming relationships with our partner Viqueque schools and the orphanage. Friendships which I hope will continue in years to come. The only negative experience expressed by our students was that they felt they did not do enough, but as I said, it’s not a one way event. In many ways we received as much as we gave and true impact of our visit may not be felt for years, as the future choices and directions our students and Viqueque students may take as a result of our meeting unfold.
There was also the more confronting side of Timorese history which no visitor to the country could escape. This included a visit to the village of Kraras, site of a major massacre of hundreds of men and boys in 1983, and the Resistance Museum in Dili which intricately laid out the details of the entire 25 year occupation of the small county. Students were both stunned and moved by the stories and sadness experienced so close to home and so recently. Equally moving was the resilience of the Timorese people and every part of Timor showed signs of a country moving on to create a better future for the next generation. At times the entire country resembled a work site as roads, drains, buildings, power, water and infrastructure were being built as quickly as their economy would allow.
Each of us will carry our own memories of this time we spent together and for each of us the journey will hold a different meaning. I myself felt quite proud to have made new friendships and to have even been a tiny part of this fine nation’s future story.
Jonathan Chapman, Teacher