I have been volunteering at the Ryder-Cheshire Home, Klibur Domin, in East Timor, for three months. I responded to an advertisement that the Ballarat Support Group had advertised in a Newsletter called United Way. After talking with their President, Leo Rennie, and meeting the members, I decided that this was the place for me to go to support the work undertaken by the KD community. I had been to East Timor previously assisting the work of the Ballarat Friends of Aniaro who are supporting the people of the Aniaro District.
Upon my arrival at Dili Airport, I was met by Sr Joaquim Soares the Manager of KD. He drove me along the scenic coast road to KD. This I thought was quite a bumpy ride but I was soon to learn that this road was comparably in good condition. My accommodation was in the Volunteers’ Cottage. It consisted of three bedrooms, an East Timorese bathroom and kitchen. Remarkably I actually learned to cook!
Before I could not heat water, let alone boil an egg!! I have yet to try this newly found talent out on my family back home in Ballarat.
My task was to be very hands on which is work that I know and am experienced in. I so enjoyed working alongside the local people from the KD community. I found them all to be such willing workers. The Odd Bods (UK) Association had donated a ride on mower that arrived whilst I was at KD. This was to be a new experience for us all. I was able to eventually set up the mower and assist in training the workers on using this new machinery, which caused much fun and laughter amongst the KD community. Before we could use the mower we needed to clear the compound of many, many rocks. This was a huge communal undertaking. I am sure we all lost weight and became fitter during this exercise. I know I lost eight kilos!
There was lots of OH&S equipment that came with the mower. The favourite was a set of overalls. These were worn with pride. So much so, that the workers asked me to source sets of overalls for each of them upon my return to Ballarat! The gutters and water tanks were other jobs that we undertook. The gutters needed clearing. They were clogged due to leaf debris. After discussing this task with Sr Joaquim Soares we realized that the over hanging tree branches were the culprits. Action was immediate. The problem was swiftly attended to by skilful tree- climbing workers. Up the trees the workers sped to cut away the offending branches! That job was accomplished in no time at all!
Water is an issue throughout East Timor and so it is at KD. Installing water tanks was the other major task that I supported. I noticed a label on an existing tank and discovered that an Aussie, Norm, was part of a Rotary Project that had established East Timor Roofing (ETR). This business manufactured tanks that would attune to East Timorese weather, road and health conditions. We decided that I visit Norm and his team in Bacau, which was only 100kms from KD. Now this is when I truly got to know East Timorese roads. I realised just how good the road from the Airport to KD really was. I caught the bus at 6.00am and arrived at my destination only 100kms away at 2.00pm! The journey and time was well spent as Norm’s advice was invaluable. He explained that plastic tanks would be so costly and that large tanks would be very difficult to transport given the road conditions. The four water tanks that would hold 40,000L were quickly put into place by the skilful undertaking of the local workers. I was quite over whelmed by their knowledge and expertise in accurately setting the footings and foundation walls for these tanks. Their use of minimal equipment was quite amazing. We celebrated their accomplishment by hosting a very special treat of Nescafe coffee in the Volunteers’ Cottage.
I had access to TV so I was able to keep up with important Aussie events such as AFL. The other way that I was able to keep up with news was at Mass. I regularly attended the Sunday Mass at the near by Church. It was very, very long and all said in Tetum. When my presence was noted, the Priest found a translator for me so I was asked to tell the congregation why I was at KD. The translator also explained that Mass was so long because part of the Priest’s role was to keep the locals informed about news through out their country. Communication is a difficulty particularly outside of Dili. Each Sunday I would have lunch in Dili with the AVI’s. This always proved to be a nice exchange of information.
My time at KD was wonderful. The management and staff are doing a remarkable job supporting the health of their people. I learned so much from the KD community. They hosted me to a huge farewell feast, much to my embarrassment, but I was explained that at least they would have a good feed that night.
On my second last night at KD there was a huge deluge of rain…and to my great joy…I could actually hear water running into the tanks!
When, back home in Ballarat, I attended my first Support Group meeting, not only were the members anxious to hear about my time at KD, they also presented me with a framed Certificate of Appreciation. I was really touched by this gesture.