Trip to East Timor - Report by Caity Cameron (2016)

East Timor was a wonderful country to visit. The people were all very welcoming and friendly and it was so important to see such a close neighbour of Australia’s as it develops. I must admit, the culture shock was stronger than I expected it to be, perhaps because I’ve been so lucky to experience mostly highly developed countries. Luckily for me, right across the road was a supermarket that stocked cold coke zero, so I didn’t feel too far away from home!
I think seeing the level of development was a big factor of this - I didn’t quite expect there to be a lacking of things I so easily take for granted – things like good sewerage, recycling systems, and easily accessible bins so there is less litter on the ground and in the water. Something that I really valued seeing was so many kids in so many different school uniforms, and seeing such a strong emphasis on the importance of education. I also really appreciated learning little things about the culture of Dili, like that each member of government has three cars: one for driving in the city, one for longer, bumpier drives out of the city, and one that is unmarked so no-one knows it’s a government employee participating in shady activities.

I found going up into the mountains very difficult, as it was so much emptier than Dili, which I think made me feel a bit isolated after such a busy place. However, this was a pivotal time for our group to get to know each other, including our Timorese friend Alfa, and to also see the more unseen side of the country. Something that struck me greatly was seeing the hospital in Maubisse. Although it served for four village areas, it was so small. There were only four beds in emergency, and a small room for the ICU. It definitely made me grateful for the standard of hospitals here. However, it was surrounded by such a nice garden it felt far less institutional than the ones here.

One of the most important things for me in East Timor, I think especially as a Christian fighting for justice and peace, was seeing the history museums and learning about the (recent) injustice that led to the independence of the country. I feel like we hear so much of the history of so many Western countries that we never really look deeply into our Asia-Pacific region’s state history. The most striking for me was the prison from Indonesian rule that has been transformed into a museum of peace and progress. The injustices I learnt about there were perhaps the worst ones perpetrated throughout the war of independence, however, they were perhaps the most important to be aware of.

What I found most beneficial about our visit to East Timor was talking to the organisations who are working in the development of the country. In particular, the YWCA and Kor Timor. The YWCA in Dili is doing a fantastic job in educating women and promoting gender equality, among other things, like sustainability (including the possible momentum of a recycling system). Kor Timor is a co-operative organisation that promotes fair work, wages and conditions for workers in Dili. We saw their workshop where they make fabrics and fabric products (such as oven mitts, bags, wallets, and jewellery) and paper products, like boxes and cards. Their shop in the mall also sells responsibly sourced Timorese coffee, of which I am a huge fan!

The whole experience for me was so enriching and important, to learn about what was going on in a country so close to mine that I would have probably wouldn’t have otherwise visited. I think it gave me a big boost of motivation from God to promote development and progress in such a poor nation, neighbouring to our rich one. It was so rewarding and the relationships that I developed with people over there are amazing. I encourage many more people to go to East Timor to learn about what we can do to help as Australians.