Category Archives: School Visit

Making Connections: Clonard Students Visit Timor

Report by Olivia Hurley and Nikita Bone (Clonard College students)

When we exited the plane our bodies were over-whelmed by the blazing heat and never-ending humidity. The climate along the coastline and the inland villages varied throughout the day but was prominently hot. Dili’s heat was long-lasting, humid and consistent throughout the night, juxtaposing the cooler evenings, foggier mornings and wetter conditions in the rural villages, like Viqueque and Venilale. Our bodies quickly adapted to the clear skies and ever present sun. We saw many startling images as we walked along the streets of Dili, Bacau, Venilale and Viqueque. There were markets, dogs, chickens, microlets, monkeys, ruins and religious icons, and always children ready to say hello. The drive from Dili to Beloi was a beautiful, coastal drive along a treacherous, dirt road that we called “The Great Ocean Track”. This road is currently being upgraded by the Timor Leste government and will no doubt become a future tourist attraction. The views of open water, mountain ranges and small villages were unforgettable and unique. The extensive mountain ranges and plateau were covered by trees and beautiful forest. There was a diverse variety of fruit trees which prompted our desire to buy the tropical, organic fruits for sale in the small fruit markets throughout the cities and villages. Overall despite our undeniable shock and the overwhelming effects heat and the unfamiliarity of the environment, the girls all grew a definite connection to and appreciation for the diverse and unique physical environment that we will never forget.

We learnt that amidst prevalent poverty in the aftermath of wartime, culture stands out in Timor-Leste as something vibrant and precious. As the country is so extremely different to the Australian context that we were familiar with, it was easy for us as first time visitors to become overwhelmed by the aspects of Timorese life that we viewed as cultural. However, through our burgeoning knowledge of the history of Timor-Leste and our visits to community organisations such as Afalyca, we began to realise that the relationship between the Timorese people and their culture is complex, and that this relationship has been severed and reshaped at various points within the country’s tumultuous past. Timor-Leste has been colonised by the Portuguese and invaded by the Indonesians. The presence of these nations on the island led to new and diverse concepts being intoduced into Timorese culture. For example the Portuguese introduction of Catholicism that would eventually consume the religious preferences of almost the entire population. Prior to this Timor-Leste already had its own traditions. The surviving imprint of these traditions was evidenced by the sacred houses, or ‘Uma-Lulik,’ that our Timorese guide Joni led us to in the mountain community of Venilale. Also in Venilale, a visit to the secluded home of a local family allowed us to witness the traditional process of tais weaving, and how this skill that is central to Timorese culture is transferred from generation to generation of Timorese women. In many ways, the tais are symbolic of the culture of Timor-Leste. The intricate process of weaving the tais is a product of original Timorese tradition, and as it is taught to young women by their mothers and grandmothers, the culture is absorbed into a new generation. Then the distribution of these tais, woven with Timorese cotton in bright colours and decorated with representations of the sacred Uma-Lulik, to locals and visitors alike also disperses a bold cultural presence throughout the nation. The fact that preserving the connection between the people of Timor-Leste and their traditional culture is vital, particularly after a war that threatened to destroy it, was further demonstrated to us by our visit to the Afalyca Community Centre in Baucau. Afalyca is a community initiative that aims to revive and sustain an intimate relationship between people and tradition in Timor-Leste by educating children about their cultural roots. Watching, and accompanying, the children at Afalyca as they danced and sang, adorned with dresses fashioned from their cherished tais, exposed us to the sense of almost triumphant joy that is unearthed when culture is maintained in Timor-Leste.

We also learnt the Timorese take pride in learning, always wanting to further their education and knowledge. This thirst to learn is obvious everywhere we visited but particularly in the smaller districts such as Viqueque and Licecia. As obvious ‘malays’ we would be stopped in some of the most random places such as churches and restaurants by locals wanting to broaden their horizons through speaking English. The Timorese’s passion for school is very much apparent in the younger generations. Whilst visiting various schools across the country the students would always introduce themselves by their name, goal and hobby, to all of which most would answer either becoming a doctor or journalist in the future and their favourite hobby is to study. Their drive and determination regarding school was inspirational and somewhat shocked us. It made us realise the strength of their desire to better themselves, their family and their community through education and how important learning facilities are to them. The values the Timorese have embedded in their people regarding education and learning will forever impact the way we view school, and the opportunities we receive as a result of western privilege.

The many bonds between Australia and Timor Leste will continue to be strengthened as students such as ourselves have the wonderful opportunity to visit this amazing country.

Clonard 17_photo

Women’s Empowerment Program: creating incredible friendships, bonds and memories

Early in 2015 Sacred Heart College Geelong organised a student trip to Timor Leste. In the following report one of the students who participated provides a powerful portrait of how we can work together to build opportunities for all, especially those whose life circumstances are more difficult than our own.

Our Global Partnership experience with CTID Girls College in Baucau, Timor-Leste was unforgettable, enriching, life changing and incredibly eye opening. Although the trip only lasted ten days, everything was planned by Destination Dreaming, SHC and CTID to make sure not one minute was wasted. In the first few days we became used to being in a new country with a different culture. We spent time in Dili where we learnt a lot about the history of East Timor and their tragic past. However along with this we also discovered what an amazing young country East Timor is and gained a lot of respect for the young people who fought for their own country’s independence.

We then travelled along the coast from the capital of Dili, to Baucau, where we were to meet up with the girls we were to be working with at Cannossian College (CTID). It was here that we spent four days working together with the young women at the College who are part of the Women’s Empowerment Program. This program provides the young women with the opportunity to learn skills such a sewing, cooking, technology, office administration and English that will allow them to become self sufficient and support themselves and their family in the future.

Most of us went to East Timor thinking we would be giving more to the girls than they would us, however it was amazing surprising how wrong we were. Our time at the college allowed us to create incredible friendships, bonds and memories with the girls. Despite the language barrier and living completely different lives back home, it was amazing to see how much we had in common with the girls and how much we could learn from them. The ten days went faster than any of us expected and going home definitely involved mixed emotions however there is no doubt that everyone who went on the trip walked away with a new perspective on how we now view and appreciate our families, our education and our lives at home as well as how lucky we are to be born young women in a country such as Australia where we have so many opportunities for our futures.

A huge thanks to Ms Gillett, Mr Ansell and Clint Miller from Destination Dreaming for helping to make this the best experience possible!

Alice C. – Student, Sacred Heart College, Geelong

Seven Geelong Schools Support Timor Leste

2015 looks as if it will be record year for the number of Geelong schools visiting Timor Leste. Sacred Heart College and Christian College will spend part of their first term holidays there, while five other schools will make the journey later in the year.

Students in Viqueque

Students in Viqueque

Clonard College, St Ignatius College, Kardinia International College, Geelong High School and The Geelong College will make the journey between July and September. Most school will get to the Viqueque District but some are visiting regions such as Bacau, Lospalos and Atauro. No doubt these school trips will be challenging but, at the same time, a very rewarding experience for students and staff as they cement positive relationships between Geelong and Timor Leste.

Reports of these trips will be found in our newsletter Manten Kontaktu later in the year.

Kardinia International College Visit

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.

KIC_1Education 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.

KIC_3Our 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.

KIC_2There 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