Published: 12 July 2016

East Timor Immersion

After almost a week’s rest our students have had time to reflect on yet another successful adventure through the beautiful country of Timor Leste.

Teacher Chris Zammit tells us about some of the East Timor experiences.

Students Bridget, Eugene, Riley, Ben, Esta & Melou  were excellent ambassadors for our College, getting stuck into every activity, showing initiative when needed and grit when required. They immersed themselves physically and emotionally into every activity & interaction and have returned with an enormous insight not only into the struggles of daily life but also with a greater respect for the people of this amazing nation and an appreciation for the opportunities and comfort of their own lives.

This year’s trip was a little different to previous immersions, particularly with the absence of the Orphanage of Santa Bakhita in Dili. Inacia’s son, Freddie, ensured that all were well looked after in what is now empty rooms in Dili. Inacia’s beautiful grave site sits at the entrance of this orphanage/home surrounded by pictures of her life, including pictures with past St James students & staff. Our time in Dili included a day at the beach with many of the kids who had lived at the orphanage and also an evening of entertainment and wonderful interactions – singing and dancing galore! They do a mean haka!

One of the more challenging activities on this year’s immersion was a climb up Mount Ramelau, around 3000 m above sea level and the highest mountain in Timor. Despite a number of obstacles, including a late start and some light rain, the kids tackled this pilgrimage with an intensity only St James students could. Their positivity despite adversity was their strongest asset, and a key trait that followed them throughout the trip. After ‘sleeping’ in an open air church (‘sacred house’), we climbed the final leg to the peak in the early hours of the morning to see the view of a sunrise very few ever experience and one that words cannot fully describe.

Mario, our host in Seloi, had been admitted to hospital just prior to our trip but we were capably and warmly looked after by his elder children Odete, Victor & Ana. We visited Mario in hospital and he noted that if we can survive Mt Ramelau then he can survive a bout of lung infection in hospital, and he was released a day before we left his home. He is the personification of resilience and we are truly lucky to have him as such a strong supporter of St James and this trip.

Our following explorations of Seloi, Railako Kraik and the surrounding areas also provided some obstacles with the breaking down of the car at one of the nearby schools. We were fortunate to be saved by Brother Peter Coe and given a new vehicle which seemed somewhat more reliable albeit with not much suspension. The roads throughout the country were at their worst in some places and their best in others. The highway to Dili was better than most roads in Brisbane, whilst the village roads seemed to resemble rocks strewn together on cracked and broken land. Nevertheless there were few complaints from the kids and minimal vomit from other passengers and we had no more car problems.

During our time in Timor we had three games of volleyball, losing 2-1 overall but with, undoubtedly, our strongest team yet. Our students would discuss tactics during times of debrief along with practicing before matches. Their competitiveness was only outdone by their sportsmanship. They spent two hours picking 5kg of coffee (valued around $2) and got to see parts of the villages that no foreigners would ever have visited. They embraced the bucket showers, squat toilets and overall dustiness of the mountains, ensuring that they walked every step of their journey with their host families and local acquaintances. They led some fantastic lessons of English and other activities in a number of classrooms and the students at each of the schools were so grateful for the interruption of regular classes – as we know would be the case here at St James.

Every student approached this trip with an attitude of solidarity with the people around them and have all expressed a desire to return and contribute more when they can. Esta was a natural at the language and was constantly picking up and learning new words and games. She was the ‘Islander mother’ of the group and commented on how familiar she felt with the kids and families around her. Melou really came out of her shell and was sad to leave. She was a genuine presence to many of the young ladies within the homes that we lived. Riley & Bridget were an ever-present positive influence on the group and had a go at everything in front of them. Riley, particularly, managed so well as a vegetarian, particularly with the sounds of a pig being killed in the not-far distance. Ben really pushed himself with every physical challenge and provided some real Ben Arnold insights at every turn of the journey. (He would regularly explain things he’d just seen or done to others in the group: “So basically…” followed by a really complicated explanation of this brand new experience). And Eugene provided a constant laugh and light hearted approach every day, particularly when the group was faced with a new challenge. All of these kids were so ready for this experience and provided solid support for each other the entire time. It was a real pleasure to travel with them and they are all to be congratulated for their efforts throughout this very raw and challenging trip.

I’d like to thank Erin & Aaron for their presence and true guidance along the way. They were a strong presence not only to the group and the host families, but also to me personally. Both of these amazing people have hearts full of compassion and a strong desire to see a better world. I am so lucky to have spent so much time with them. Thanks also to Jess Whelan who, unfortunately, was not able to make it at the last minute but assisted with the preparation of the students and with fundraising prior to our departure. Thanks also to all the staff who provided support in so many ways prior to our trip. To Gerry, Tricia & Marty, Tony & David for supporting the program, to Ian for cutting out boomerangs for our art activity and Maria & Valmai for helping create support materials. And to all Homeroom teachers who kept their students on track and well prepared for this trip. It was, yet again, another fantastic trip and I am truly grateful for this community that is so much a part of this partnership, even if you haven’t met or been to Timor Leste.

Obrigado barak! (Thank you very, very much!)

Chris Zammit