Sightseeing and stark realities

May 31, 2018

The group meeting with Dr Jeremy from Maluk Timor to donate US $5000 towards new HIV facilities plus medical supplies donated by Finley Rotary Club.

Ben Ashley-Cooper, Kayden Sharp and Mitch A'Vard with local doctors and nurses in Luro, presenting medical supplies and dental supplies donated by Riverina Smiles Finley.

The Finley High School Timor Leste Immersion Program students have returned from the developing country with a new perspective on ‘‘how lucky we are.’’

Ten students — Eloise Ashley-Cooper, Kayden Sharp, Emma Marsden, Dan O’Bryan, Mitch A’Vard, Ben Ashley-Cooper, Hamish Congdon, Steph Wright, Reilly Rennick and Darcy Webb — spent a week in East Timor with three supervisors, learning about the country and donating medical supplies to local villages.

The teenagers were given a welcome dance from local university students upon their arrival in the capital Dili.

But it did not take long for the students to face their first glimpse of the third world conditions when they arrived at a local health clinic.

At the hospital the students donated HIV testing kits and $5000.

‘‘The issue hospitals face over there is the fact many locals don’t trust them,’’ Darcy said.

‘‘And that’s reflected through the government when only 2.4 per cent is distributed towards health in the federal budget.

‘‘Unfortunately Timor has the worst tuberculosis record outside of Africa.

‘‘What the doctors are trying to do is establish trust in the community but the hospital was practically empty.

‘‘They were happy to see us donate and go to the effort of ensuring health isn’t forgotten.’’

After Dili, the group travelled to the small village Luro — an eight hour drive from the capital — where the students split into pairs and stayed with local families, learning about village life and trying out local delicacies.

‘‘My family didn’t speak any English so I didn’t have any idea what was going on,’’ Hamish said.

‘‘Most of the time we would point to things like water or food and smile a lot.

‘‘I tried my best attempt at some form of sign language but it would lead to me giving the thumbs up most of the time.’’

Mitch said the welcome the group received from the locals was ‘‘overwhelming’’.

‘‘They were really excited at us being there by waving, screaming and trying to shout out all the words they knew in English,’’ he said.

‘‘It was unbelievable to see so many people embrace us being there and appreciate what we were doing.’’

Despite the harsh reality of healthcare and lack of basic amenities, the students were able to take the time to visit a waterfall in the central Timor village of Venilale.

Supervisor Yasmin McGrath said the group needed to scale their way down a steep mountain just to reach the waterfall, however it was well worth the ‘‘near death’’ experience.

Mitch added later that evening the students spotted a local dignitary in the same hotel as them whilst dining in a Portuguese restaurant.

‘‘Across from us the President and Prime Minister of Timor were walking up the steps,’’ he said.

‘‘We had a look at what was happening; it was quite intense and there were armoured guards holding AK-47s (assault rifles).

‘‘All of us felt quite under-dressed as we were practically dressed in dirty rags, thongs and footy shorts.’’

Learning about the country’s political turmoil was all part of the immersion experience, with East Timor well known for its checkered history with Indonesia and only officially gaining total independence in 2002.

According to the 2016 Human Development Index, the developing country was ranked 133 compared to Australia ranked second.

Ben said by the end of the trip, he understood not to take basic home life for granted.

‘‘None of the houses we were staying in had flushing toilets or running water,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s no rubbish disposal, so everywhere you went there was plastic lying around — there’s beautiful views and amazing things to see but then there are rubbish piles.

‘‘It gives you a better outlook on how we live life in Australia and I’ve come home more appreciative of what I have and how easy it actually is.

‘‘I found it interesting to learn about the conflict that has happened in Timor.

‘‘When you’re confronted with that it might sound bad but Timor is still a great place and I would definitely do a trip like that again.’’

Travelling with the students were Ms McGrath, Elyse Price and Jade Armstrong.

The next Finley High School Timor Leste Immersion Program will take place in April 2020.

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