Just imagine; a school with over 1,100 students and only three working toilets. Sadly, this is an all too common reality for many living in Timor-Leste.
In early July 2011, five Rover Scouts from around Australia embarked on an adventure. The destination was the small country of Timor-Leste, only several hundred kilometres away, although at times it might seem a world away. But for the next eleven days, our dedicated team of Rovers would overcome challenges, achieve great things, learn, work with a wonderful group of young Timorese people, and forge many lifelong friendships.
The project was the culmination of many months of hard work by the project team, developing and organising the project, from conception to completion. It came about through a partnership between Scouts Australia, Rotary International, Uniao Nacional dos Escuteiros de Timor-Leste and the ACT Government, giving rise to the Dollars for Dili initiative. The initiative recognises the close bond between our countries and formal friendship of the two capital cities, by supporting two key projects: to improve sanitation in schools; and construction of an activity centre for the Scouts of Timor-Leste. Our project focussed on sanitation in schools, through the construction of sanitation blocks; much needed in a society where low levels of education and self-esteem, particularly in young women, are often linked to poor sanitation.
Arriving in Dili, the project team was accompanied by Graeme (Scouts Australia) and Rotarians Joe and John, who originally conceived the project idea after discussions with the local community. Following further consultations with the community, the first recipient of the project was identified: Aimutin Primary School. And it wasn’t long before work began in earnest on the first sanitation block!
While construction of the block commenced, the project team also contributed to the school in other ways. The entire school was given a much need coat of paint to help maintain the buildings against the harsh tropical conditions; the cooking area was insulated and painted, improving conditions for the local women who prepare hot lunches for the children; repairing and maintaining existing toilets at the school; and donating much-needed educational supplies to the school. It was truly amazing what we were able to achieve during our short stay in Dili, which we simply could not have done without the wonderful help and friendship of the Timorese Rover Scouts and Rotaractors.
In true scouting style, it wasn't all work, with the project team relishing the opportunity to explore Timor-Leste and learn more about its history, its culture, its language and its people. During breaks from working on the school we would spend time playing with the school children or getting to know our many new friends - learning from each other, of our languages, our cultures and our countries – different but the same in so many ways. We were also fortunate to explore the mountains beyond Dili, to the village of Maubisse. Here we gained a wonderful insight into life in the mountains, learning about coffee production (one of the country's main exports) and the opportunity to interact with the local community. Around Dili, our new friends became excellent tour guides, showing us around their city from a local perspective; learning of a country devastated by a turbulent history, but arising from the ashes with true Timorese spirit.
All too soon our journey came to an end and the time came to bid farewell to new friends and reflect in what we had achieved. Sadly, we had to leave before completion of the sanitation block, but the impact of our work and of the friendships that were made were obvious. The project was an amazing and eye-opening experience – having the opportunity to work together with young Timorese people to help others through service and to see that the actions of a few really can make a big difference to the lives of many. In many ways this project exemplified the true Scouting spirit - regardless of who we are or where we come from, that when we work together, united by a common goal, we can achieve great things. We can achieve peace.
"kolega iha servi - friends in service"