Comunidade Edmund Rice (CER) was established in Timor Leste in the late 1990s through the pioneering work of Br Dan Courtney from Brisbane. Br Dan was succeeded by Br Bill Tynan, also from Queensland, who completed 10 years of outstanding leadership of CER in April 2012. Currently, Australian Brothers Peter Coe and Frank Hennessy have taken up the management of CER.
Comunidade Edmund Rice supports health, education and development projects in partnership with the 5 village communities of Railaco Kraic, Railaco Leten, Samalete, Deleco and Taraco in the Ermera District facilitate CER’s collaboration with local communities and inform its responses to local needs and the people’s rights to education, health and improved food security.
Students assemble between buildings of Railaco Kraic School
Samalete class 1 students
RailacoKraic students line up before school
School built by CER to replace the previous grass hut school
CER Schools take a more modern approach to teaching.
Youth Employment Program Administered by CER
Adult literacy rates in Timor Leste are very low and less than half of primary-aged children complete 6 years of primary education. CER provides qualified, reliable teaching staff and resources to encourage regular attendance at school and increase retention rates. Funds from Australia enable payment of salaries for ‘volunteer’ primary school and preschool teachers and the sourcing and provision of teaching supplies. A particular feature has been the development of teaching resources for early language work in Tetun, the main local language. CER invests considerable resources in pre-school and primary teacher professional development. The involvement of Australian volunteer teachers is invaluable in in-servicing and mentoring of CER’s local teachers, which encourages participation, creativity and cross cultural exchange. The Australian Catholic University has enabled Australian final year primary teaching undergraduates to undertake their last practicum in CER supported schools, where they are able to model latest practice. ACU also works in collaboration with ICFP tertiary college in Bacau and in 2011 two local Railaco Kraic graduates were engaged by CER to teach in their home village. CER has also helped build community centers and improve school buildings and facilities.
Pre-school was not common in Timor Leste and primary schools were not much fun. A need was identifies to find a gentle and fun way to introduce children to education. Young adults from the villages were instructed in how this might be done. There are some images of how these schools operated.
CER’s mobile health clinic, which works out of a land-cruiser, has operated for more than 10 years. The clinic is staffed by a government paid nurse with 4 CER staff and visits CER supported villages weekly. The health programme aims to support basic health care at community level through an immunisation program, maternity and post-natal care and management of injuries and diseases. An additional focus is building awareness of simple health care principles within the communities CER supports and the development of community health programmes to attack malnutrition and infant and maternal mortality. Funds from Australia have enabled the payment of salaries of Timorese Health Workers employed by CER to provide medical assistance in local area clinics and the provision of medical supplies.
CER has also assisted with building projects such as village community centers and school buildings. Some projects have been completed with local labour, while other projects have been co-operative efforts of local people and volunteer teams from Australia who have provided donated materials, which are often purchased locally. These projects have also included the installation of solar power electric light in homes and water supplies. Volunteers from the Rotary Club of Inverell (Northern NSW) have been actively involved in these projects since 2002, which provide opportunities for Australians to work alongside the local people in building their communities and to engage and build relationships. These co-operative efforts also provide opportunities for cross cultural enrichment and have potential to foster commitment to ongoing support.
Comunidade Edmund Rice was started by the Christian Brothers but from the very early days its membership has included Nums and male and female volunteers. These have each committed themselves to at least twelve months service. While the religious members have worked tirelessly and have brought experience and expertise to projects it is the younger more energetic volunteers who have been more successful in learning language and winning the hearts of the local people.
These volunteers live in conditions far more primitive than what they have been used to: no running water, a few hours light each night supplied from a single 6 volt bulb, limited variety and quality of food cooked on a simple gas burner and no shower or bath for the whole year. All of this and the sadness of separation from the friends they have made in the community and the villages. Most long to return and many do for some time.
Some join the CER Community for a short times. These are generally people with advance skills in a specific area. They might be doctors, trainers or builders who offer their services for short term projects.
School groups come to stay in the Mountains of Timor Leste during school holidays. These are not holidays for the students but an opportunity to experience something of the life of the Timor Leste people. These groups are expected to have done some preparation before coming. They are given time and assistance to reflect on what they experience. Generally they take on some projects during their stay. There is often some ongoing contact after the groups leave.
Below are examples of two such groups.
In September 2011, 18 students and teachers from St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, Brisbane, embarked on a 10 day immersion in East Timor in CER’s education, health and community programs.
One of the immersion participants, Michael (aged 15) reflected:
When I first walked into the preschool classroom in Railaco Kraic, I was greeted by an East Timorese teacher, Seraphim. We had an amazing time teaching maths in Portuguese to the preschool kids before setting them up with their lunch. Seraphim pulled up a chair and told me about how he was very keen to learn English so that he could go to University in Dili. He was so keen that he had trekked the 4 hours to Dili just to buy a dictionary. He listens to the BBC World News every night to improve his English. Many of the men in his village were involved in a violent attack during a recent period of civil unrest. Seraphim refused to be involved as he doesn’t see this as a way forward. It was inspiring to meet someone so determined to change his life in the face of great challenges.
HELP is an acronym for
H Hutchinson Builders,
E St Edmund’s College – Ipswich,
L St Laurence’s College – South Brisbane and
P St Patrick’s College – Shorncliffe.
HELP building teams are comprised of a supervising builder from Hutchinson, Year 11 & 12 Manual Arts students from the participating schools and support teachers. Hutchinson Builders provide the materials for these projects. In 2010 two classrooms were completed at Samalete and another two in 2011. Previously, students at Samalete had only one classroom of bamboo construction. The alternative was a 45 minute walk over hilly terrain to the closest school. Because of these difficulties many students were delaying commencing school. In 2012 HELP is concentrating its efforts on the Gleno vocational educational centre. Fund raising is also being undertaken to further the resources at Gleno School as well funding the HELP immersion program. There is a move to help fund the running of the centre in 2013.