Thursday, March 06, 2008

Special People – East Timor 5th March 2008

Yesterday I had the opportunity and absolute privilege to accompany an Australian woman and a Timorese guy to Same, to deliver aid to Fundation Fuan Nabilan an organisation that works with the blind and vision impaired of East Timor. There are many NGO’s in East Timor covering wide communities of people but sometimes a group will fall between the cracks, the blind are in that position. Originally this group of 15 students attended a special school in Tibesi, Dili, but in the crisis of 2006 their school was burnt down and they fled with their teacher Joanna to Same.

Unfortunately people with disabilities in East Timor are treated as outcasts, even in Same these young people get stones thrown at them. Same was an Alfredo stronghold so in the recent weeks there has been a strong military presence with low flying helicopters and APV’s (Armoured Patrol Vehicles). I know for the un-ordained hearing a black hawk overhead can set your heart racing and APV’s when they trundle past are deafening. Can you imagine how frightening these noises would be if you can’t see?

In addition to the military presence, the foundation was burgled and they lost beds, furniture and most importantly their computer which was used to produce Braille. Four girls share a thin single foam mattress on the floor; the boys have to sleep on the ground. The government is supposed to help these people but they are getting no financing and Joanna and her husband haven’t been paid for nearly two years. The aid that was given was simply to buy food.

After a 4½ journey through amazing scenery we arrived at the Foundation and were welcomed with open arms. A group of six blind young people sang us songs and played guitars then read us a speech from Braille. Since their computer was stolen the teachers have produce lessons using cards and pins, a laborious, painstaking task. It was an incredible experience, I can’t play an instrument and my vision is 20/20, yet I was listening to wonderful music produced by two young men that couldn’t imagine what a guitar looks like.

The other thing that is frustrating is that some of these young people simply have cataracts which with medical care can be removed and in some cases restore sight, but with healthy women dying in childbirth in the capital city’s hospital, eye care is a long way down on any medical agenda.

I have limited experience of humanitarian work when I volunteered at a street hospital in Calcutta, India, but my time there made me realise that some communities need help because they really can’t help themselves. Yesterday really broadened my understanding of why people are so passionate about working in this sector. Many of my customers are dedicated to the organisations that employ them because they are making a difference. What riles me is the bureaucrats and the consultants that charge thousands of dollars just to replace the word ‘Cambodia’ or ‘The Solomons’ with ‘East Timor’ on their proposals.

Soapbox speech nearly over, I don’t normally do this but the aid the Foundation received was just to buy food, not replace the Braille computer or pay for an eye operation, it was simply a stop gap. Joanna even apologised for not being able to offer us any food! These guys need long term help so if you know of any organisation that may be able to help fund this Foundation please reply to me and I’ll pass the details on to someone who can make it happen.

The journey back took about 5 hours as it was raining heavily and a passenger we were taking back to Dili was horribly car sick so we had to keep stopping. The rain was so bad that in the town of Aileu the water was knee deep in the main street. I took a photo of a water pump in the middle of a village that was the only source of water for the whole village; it makes me cringe to think I was moaning about the lack of water pressure in my flat. All I have to do is turn on a tap! Living in the city you take so many things for granted.

Tired and grubby we arrived back 12 hours from set off, but what an amazing day, one I will never forget.

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