Sue Butler (author, film maker and donor), attended the 2017 Graduation – The following is her account of this amazing journey.
The flight from Darwin is so early that you can barely see the island on approach. What you can see looks like the essential paradise. Densely forested mountains, a narrow coastal plain, beautiful sweeping bays framed by the occasional mountainous island. On the northern side where Dili is, the sea is calm. No breakers hammer the beaches. A series of coral reefs lie off shore and scuba diving is an attraction. Exactly who it attracts is a mystery as this is not a tourist destination and we are not tourists. We have arrived for a long weekend to witness the graduation of 55 students who have completed the Education Degree at Baucau Teacher’s College. Entering the country from the same flight is a statuesque young nun wearing the habit of the Sisters of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order. We have plenty of time to get to know her while she waits to be picked up and we wait for our ride to the hotel to arrive. She is from Kenya and works and lives in a village high above Dili, two hours drive up into the mountains. Her job is to help the locals look after their health by getting them attended to either on site or in the city. Villagers who don’t have this sort of help are left to survive as best they can. TB is common and cancer is widespread and goes mainly untreated.
After leaving our bags at the hotel, a charming survivor of Portuguese colonial days, we go to the Timor Hotel to meet Jose Ramos Horta past president and Nobel Peace Laureate. This is the same hotel the five Australian journalists left from for their fateful assignment at Balibo in 1973. Horta gives us two hours of his time and when we leave him he has given us the impression that Timor has a future. Under the leadership of a young Prime Minister things are looking optimistic. Help from outside is still urgently needed. The sort of help that the Emerge Foundation has been giving for 10 years now.
That evening we sat by the murmuring sea for dinner at a restaurant newly built by a hotel called Novo Turismo. Perhaps tourists do or will come. It is a warm, still evening and the food is good.
Next day we travelled for 3 and a half hours along the coast road to Baucau. The road is in the throws of being rebuilt by Chinese and Japanese contractors and it is rough and in some places dangerous. But the views from the treacherous cliff face high above the ocean take the breath away. We pass many villages on the way and most are simple round thatched huts where there is no electricity and the people have to line up for water twice a day at the one tap. These villages are where many of the students at the college come from, where they will return to teach if they don’t spread their wings and go to Dili or even further afield. In the larger villages with masonry houses there is always a school. The schools are painted and in good condition.
As we approach Baucau the terrain becomes more interesting. We turn inland from the sea into a hilly area heavily covered in rain forest. One of the first things we see is the newly rebuilt college on the side of a hill overlooking the town. It is an imposing three story building. Later we will be taken on a tour of it by the Director, Brother Peter Corrs. We will see bright clean well-appointed class rooms and study rooms with views over the town to the sea and the horizon. The building contrasts emphatically with the rest of the town which is still slowly coming back from years of neglect and destruction. Nevertheless it is a pretty place and many of the old colonial buildings still stand. On the outskirts of the town is a vast web of markets selling mostly fresh vegetables and fruit. Testament to the productive nature of the hinterland. But the poverty of the brightly clad vendors is obvious too. The people of the market are not used to tourists and they smile and laugh with us. We buy a bunch of bananas and give them to the children who are everywhere giggling at us and wanting to be photographed.
Graduation day arrives and we are in the church by 8 am for mass. The graduates are gathered on one side of the church and do most of the singing. They sing perfect harmonies and we are all enchanted. The service lasts for two hours and is spoken in Tetum. The bishop gives a long homily and not a sound is heard apart from his deeply resonant voice for forty minutes. He is a charming man who entertains his congregation and makes them laugh. Outside in the seering sun people gather for photographs. Many come up to us and say thank you. These are students who are still involved in the course and are on scholarships from Emerge.
We walk around the corner to a hall which is decorated in the national flag and colourful streamers and bunting ready for the graduation ceremony. The families and supporters of the graduates fill the hall quickly. Many of the men are in suits and the women have gone to a lot of trouble with their dress. Most of the graduates are women. Out of the fifty five, only 10 are men. Probably the same proportion in primary teaching in Australia. Emerge has as a policy to favour women in the giving of scholarships. Half the students at the college are on scholarships from Emerge. Most are from small villages. If they were not at college they would be married and having babies. Most women in East Timor have at least 5 children. Many of the graduates are already married and have had to take a year or more off during their course to have a baby. The women of East Timor have a very high mortality rate in childbirth. For the last few years Emerge has been funding a program for the training of ‘barefoot’ nurses who go out into the villages and provide basic first aid and midwifery. Emerge sees this as an extremely important part of its operation.
Four of the graduates receive Masters Degrees. The Masters in Education is provided directly by the Australian Catholic University as distance education. To do the course the student must learn English. Instructors are sent from the university to help with this. These Masters graduates will become the teachers at the teachers college. At present, about half the staff are these successful post graduate recipients. The degrees offered at the Baucau College are the only ones in East Timor with international recognition. Two young women from this year’s bachelor graduates, have been offered jobs with the World Bank to work in their education program.
While in East Timor we had little time to have a proper look around. Some parts are lush and moist and others quite dry. There are spectacular views and wonderful mountains. In a small town on the way back from Baucau we stopped to look at on old Portuguese church. The day was hot and dry and inside in the cool, sweet voices sang while the congregation filed forward for communion. No one noticed us come and stand at the back. We could have been in Portugal. It was Sunday. The congregation wasn’t large but there was no one about on the streets or in the paddy fields. A day of rest.
Going to East Timor was a wonderful experience. If you want to put your life in some sort of perspective I would highly recommend going. It is chastening to see how little these people live on and how well they live their lives in spite of it. We know from statistics that there are a lot of things needed to make life comfortable and optimistic there. There is a lot of domestic violence, mal-nourishment in children and untreated illness. Education is the linchpin of a better life. That is what Ian and Marionne with Emerge are working so hard to help fund. That is what you are doing by being here tonight. Thank you for supporting Emerge and these wonderful Timorese people.
- Sue Butler
Emerge Graduates Head for World Bank
Two of our 2017 graduates have accepted job offers from the World Bank in Dili, testimony to their hard work and the quality of the faculty at ICFP in Baucau.
Ambrosia Lopez Ximines and Ana Jacqueline da Silva (pictured) will help with syllabus design.
Ambrosia was the recipient of the Richmond Family Scholarship in 2014 with Ana Jacqueline winning the QANTAS Scholarship the same year.
Anche Cabal Carries National Flag at Rio Olympics
Anche received her Master's degree from major General Peter Cosgrove in 2012.
Here she is carrying the flag at the Rio Olympics. she represented East Timor in cross country cycling. We salute the dedication, talent and intelligence of this beautiful young lady.