Timor Leste -background
Though the vote in East Timor in 1999 was overwhelmingly for independence, extreme opposition from militia groups led to massive destruction and the displacement of some 250,000 people to West Timor and still more hundreds of thousands to the hills around the villages and urban settlements of East Timor.
Over 90% of all school buildings were severely damaged or destroyed by the Indonesian military and in the exodus of Indonesians out of East Timor, the nation lost 20% of its primary school teachers and 80% of secondary teachers. UNICEF and other international aid organizations responded fairly quickly, however, reestablishing classes for 420 of the country’s 800 primary schools by December 1999 plus an additional 273 schools by April 2000. Timor Leste became the world’s newest nation on May 20th 2002.
Using local resources
During training, it is good practice to make the best of whatever local resources are available, both human and material. While working in Timor Leste (East Timor) I was privileged to meet a local translator, Jorge, who became a good friend and a wonderful natural facilitator, while training head teachers and teachers.
Jorge had survived a ‘near-death’ experience facing Indonesian militia during Timor’s struggle for independence.
During one training workshop, I was naively discussing with the group about using local materials for use in science lessons. After the session Jorge asked if he could run a short session on the use of local resources for teaching, and he would provide the local materials. I already knew I could trust Jorge so I eagerly let him prepare for the next day. Little did I realise he would spend until midnight preparing for his session, which included climbing trees to collect natural gum, to be used as an adhesive
The outdoor laboratory
Although he had no training as a facilitator, he was a natural in terms of knowing his subject, understanding the needs of his audience,preparing well and providing challenging activities so that participants develop new skills in a supportive environment.
In many ways we were teaching each other and learning from each other as I watched in awe at the inventive way he developed his session into a full day experience and how he continued to build and extend his repertoire of training skills. As a local person he was also able to be more challenging and try to get the best out of poorly educated teachers,many of whom had to come off the fields to volunteer to be a teacher in the early days of the world’s newest nation. He believed in people’s capacity and the proof was in the revolution that could be seen in the classrooms of teachers we worked with.
Products of a teacher training workshop in rural Timor Leste
With Jorge’s drive and ingenuity bare-walled classrooms, previously devoid of stimulation, became an Aladdin’s cave with models of the solar system hanging from the ceiling, learning corners with local musical instruments, pieces of weaving looms and many other artefacts and teaching aids that started to make lessons come alive and stimulate learning for all the students.
It really was a dream to work alongside Jorge and a humbling experience to see people build something from the ashes of their schools. Rice farmers came off the rice fields to volunteer as teachers, so that children could go to school.
Luckily Jorge was able to witness his country’s independence and be determined that he could help build capacity in others to make the most of new found freedoms.
Dedicated to Jorge Mouzinho and the other young people of Timor Leste.
Ray Harris May 2009