As a new nation, East Timor takes democracy very seriously.
In Venilale as official observers at the recent national election, Michelle Harmer and Rachel Meadows were very impressed with the whole process.
“The country’s history of colonisation, occupation, a war of independence and civil strife has given the people a strong desire to maintain peace and good government,” Michelle said.
“They had done a lot of preparation for the election. The polling booths were well set up and the process was transparent, with very careful recording and counting of votes,” she said.
Rachel was particularly impressed with effort people made to vote. “Some of them rose early and walked for hours. Transport was provided for elderly people and assistance with voting was available for those who needed it.”
While in Venilale, Mansfield’s friendship town, Rachel and Michelle handed over equipment and funds for the hospital and pregnancy clinic.
“The hospital is very clean and well organised, and the director and staff are passionate about improving the health of their community, but they desperately need equipment and supplies,” Rachel said.
“We were able to make a substantial donation, including money raised at the concert at the Delatite Hotel in June that featured Mystic Trio and local musicians.”
The choice and purchase of the goods was overseen by Dr Susan English, a Melbourne obstetrician who is a member of Bayside Friends of Salesian Missions East Timor and has visited both Venilale and Mansfield.
“The conditions are very tough, but the midwives do all they can to ensure safe births,” said Rachel. “One request was for lamps that don’t require mains electricity because sometimes they have to do deliveries using the light from their mobile phones.
“The donated funds have provided essential supplies such as sutures and saline solution and equipment such as baby scales. A container-load of larger items, including a new birthing bed and mattresses for the labour ward, is on its way to Dili.”
Rachel and Michelle praised the government-run hospital, which provides free contraception, obstetrics, pre- and post-natal care and child health, including an outreach service for vaccination.
There is an outpatient clinic and workers who specialise in mental health, geriatrics and health promotion.
During their trip Michelle and Rachel also visited the new Venilale Community Centre, which is supported by Mansfield’s Friends of Venilale. It includes an internet cafe, tourist stop and women’s craft store.
Several women’s craft groups have been established in Venilale district with the encouragement of Georgina Sarmento, the friendship liaison officer employed by FoV.
The women weave the traditional fabric called ‘tais’ and make bags and other items, some of which are sold in Mansfield through the Made in Mansfield artists’ cooperative and at bush markets.
“These are strong women, or ‘feto forte’ as they are called locally. They support their families with their earnings, and they also learn skills like marketing, budgeting and stock control,” Michelle said.
“Venilale is moving ahead. The community know what direction they want to take and the interest of Friends of Venilale is to support that self-determination,” she said.