Friday March 5th – our 9th day in Timor Leste
Today we spent our first of 3 days visiting the “districts”, with Emera being the first. Emera has a population of 8,000 which here they call a village. It took us about 3 ½ hours to get there from Dili with a definite need for our four wheel drive vehicles. It is easy to see why these vehicles are necessary when you drive through one wash out after another. Winding, twisting and sheer drop offs at some points, up and over the mountains we went to where the air was refreshingly cool, though wet with rain at times too. We even lost the use of a truck due to a transfer case issue. Good thing we had extra room.
Upon our arrival,it felt like the entire community showed up to welcome us with a “Welcome Dance”. This included young and old, along with many home made instruments and a special gift of personalized “Tais” for each of our delegationWe visited 2 community centers both supported by Development and Peace partner, FKSHThe first one was focused on the younger women (18 and older), with 9 active members and 32 new recruits coming through their program. The second center was for the senior women, who known as “tias”, which is a name given as a sign of respect here. These women first started organizing on their own by committing $20 each for the group. Their goal was to start a center where they could transfer some of their skills in a group setting. Some of the activities now put on by these 2 centers include, sewing, embroidery, weaving, coffee packaging, English training, traditional medicines and book keeping.
There is always more needed in these communities as we heard their continued desire for material, sewing machines, and the ever present desire to have computers.. Everyone we met were so appreciative of the support we had given them through our partner FKSH that it was great to see how our funds were used by a local NGO. FKSH had helped these people within a community to create and implement a programs they had tailored for themselves and their own particular needs.
There are 12 sub-villages who all use this young women’s activity center. The local parish supplied the building for the youth center and helped provide for the original training by sending 2 students to the city of Baucau with one of the Sisters for several months of training. The seniors center was donated to them by the federal government after writing a proposal. We were quite impressed that this came about until we visited the center in person and saw it was actually a condemned building as it was severely damaged by an earth quake and now the only safe area in the building was a small room in the back that was used to sell their wares. Though we only spent a few hours in this village we were sure impressed with their hospitality and their gratitude towards Development and Peace for funding our partner FKSH. We had a great lunch, were serenaded in song and music and had lots of opportunity for shopping by buying many of the handicrafts made by the very women we came to see. We were lead back to our cars by women drummers and a huge following.
The roads and rain are a major factor here as it was easy to see how these people can be completely cut off from the rest the rest of the country after a downpour. Another example of the realities in these communities was highlighted when the main facilitator working for FKSH in this village was unable to attend due to coming down with dengue fever. This decision was probably not made lightly as we were some of the few foreigners to come through this town based on the entries in the guest book.
On the way back to Dili we stopped about half way down the mountain at a training center built by the Catholic Church and run by one of partners here, the Sisters of St Paul Chartres. This center was recently built on donated land and also holds classes for women to learn how to cook and sew. These 3 month courses are run from Monday to Wednesday and provide a great opportunity for the women within this region. They walk from 1-2 hours to get to this center and work on 9 “Singer” sewing machines which were the same models as the ones we saw earier in the morning at the first village. These were very good looking treadle models and very practical as electricity in these areas is scarce and costly. One of the products of their labour is the sewing of school uniforms. The Sisters pay each young lady $5 for sewing the uniform and supply the material. Overall they seem very resourcefull here in this remote location and even much or all of the food needed there is grown on site.
Dick, Mary and Paul