At 7.30am, we gathered at Changi International Airport’s Terminal 2, for our 9am flight.
On the 3 hour 15 minute flight, after helping us change our USD into smaller denotions, Prasanth started chatting with the man seated on our right, a university Portuguese Linguistics lecturer. He recommended us restaurants and dishes, beaches, and places to visit.
Apparently, some of the beaches have erected warning signs about crocodiles, which were supposed to be rather common in their crocodile-shaped island. He, however, had never seen any first-hand before, so he told us not to worry.
Upon arrival at the Dili (Timor's capital) airport, we met Michael. (He is AMAZING. our trip was a success largely due to his sincerity and commitment towards us.)
First stop, to buy local SIM cards to call home, and Timor’s first supermarket, which is owned by a Singaporean. The owner of the supermarket gave me her contact details, asked me to pass a copy to whoever was holding the camera, and another to our in-charge. She also told us to contact her if anything happens, immediately.
That was the first time I ever felt such love and concern from a fellow Singaporean, overseas. In times of trouble, Singaporeans will stand together to protect each other. I am thankful for our social studies and civic and moral education in primary and secondary education now. It made me realise how important total defence day actually is in bonding Singaporeans together, regardless of age, race, or religion.
Next stop, a Canossa convent.
Immediately after getting off the van, we were welcomed by an aisle of Timorese girls around our age. Their voices were so sweet; I bet they melted some of the guys' hearts!
"Welcome to our family~ we're glad that you have come to share your life with us~ as we grow in love and, may we always be to you~ ..."
They sang Welcome to our Family, as taught by Michael.
We were presented with Tais, Timor's traditional cloth.
After the first song, everyone spontaneously burst into a round-rosy, step-in-step-out kind of dance. Everyone joined in. ^^
The welcome meal they prepared for us was quite a spread! Turns out that almost every meal the convents provided us with would be as extravagant on their part.
However, not everything was smooth flowing. Halfway through the meal, there was a blackout. Twice, their generator stalled.
In the following 10 days thereafter, the lack of electricity would pose as the greatest deterrent to our purposes in Timor.
After the power came back on, everyone finally noticed that there were winged insects fluttering around the light, and our food. to get rid of them, we switched off the light near our table, and let them swarm to where the other light (with a handful of gargantuan wall-lizards) were. The rest of the dinner was in peace.
Mana (in Tatum, their local language, MANA = big sister. MAUM = big brother) then told us the legend behind Timor's island.
It is as follows;
"One day, a boy saved a baby crocodile. He fed it and took care of it till they were both big.
Then, the crocodile began to have 'bad' thoughts. He wanted to eat the boy.
However he thought about it, and said, "no, the boy saved me while I was a baby, and took care of me. I shouldn't have these 'bad' thoughts."
So he regretted it, and eventually promised the boy his own land when he dies.
The crocodile then began his search for the best spot on earth, and lay down to die.
Where his body was, the land began to form, and following his body grooves, Timor now has plenty of mountains, and the shape of a crocodile."
Mana also told us that dolphins and crocodiles could be seen at the beaches, and in the town of Los Paulos.
“It's fine to pass a crocodile by on the streets there, as you'll be fine if you do not harbour 'bad' thoughts towards the crocodile. Thanks to the legend.”
However, the Southern beaches facing the Australian seas are too dangerous to swim at, due to too many saltwater crocodiles.
Mana also went on to tell us about Timor's history, civil wars, how the Canossa sisters helped the people, placed themselves in cross fires, etc.
One particular story I listened to was about how the competition between the various martial arts groups blew up into full-blown civil unrest. it is frightening how such childish matters could blow up and cause the place to become a ghost-town.
With each period of unrest, Dili was empty for at least one point of time.
The whole time we were at dinner, I kept hearing someone play the guitar. He had talent, but no proper skills or technique. Hearing the same coarse playing styles over the duration of the trip, in the different towns, made me realise that what the Timorese needed was not aid, but nurturing and education.
it was a Sunday, so the schools were all closed.
Vicky and 3 boys went for morning mass while the rest of us stayed behind to recover from jet lag.
We went for lunch together at Dili’s first food court, Dili food court, which was owned by a Singaporean. ‘Tzi-Char’ style and Roti Prata for the win. The pricing similar to Singapore’s, except that everything was in USD.
Pro: suited to our taste buds
con: expensive. Very expensive.
went to a college/grade/kindergarten school campus to set up around 50 computers around the college building.
It actually went by smoother than expected. Majority of the computers were working fine, there were enough software CDs and thumb drives to go around.
The only major obstacle was a lack of extension cords. We could only install software in a maximum of 4 computers at a single time.
Replaced Norton Anti-virus with Avast, and installed Microsoft Office 2003 into each and every single one of those working computers.
Guess what, they were asking us "why 03? Why no 07?" Maybe Timor is not as backward as we thought. At least, in the towns.
Internet was available at that school. I heard it was the Ivy League equivalent in Timor.
went back to the same campus to set up 30+ computers in the kindergarten building. I wonder what 4 year-old kids would need Microsoft Office for.
Since there were only 8 computers, those that needed fixing/special attention were getting tended to by our awesome technical dudes.
I went to try teaching the kids how to play skipping rope and zero point. Embarrassing moments need not be publicised. Sweets were given out, and someone needs to teach those children how to share!
While waiting to go for lunch, we went into the senior high classes to introduce ourselves. In first class Jane and I went to, we ended up explaining what our Singapore flag symbolised.
5 stars - peace, prosperity and progress, democracy, justice, equality.
Crescent moon - a young and rising nation
red - brotherhood and harmony
white - purity and innocence
hope I got them right.
In the second class, we ended up discussing the differences between the education structures in Timor and Singapore.
I heard someone mention that the students there are all from the wealthier/prominent families. For example, the minister's kids. So then why do THEY need our computers?
After our work was all done, Michael brought us to the beach in the outskirts of Dili. The water was crystal clear! Their beaches could rival Hawaii’s! Minus the waves, of course.
The boys played in the water and volcanic sand illogically.
we spent over 4 hours by van travelling from Dili to Baucau, made a pit-stop in Manatutu, and took a quick glimpse at some of the computers there.
The kids had already set up the computers themselves, and were currently using Adobe Photoshop!!!
Stunned, we continued our journey to Baucau in silence. Again, the scenery was amazing.
everyone was preoccupied with observing the scenery, that the first time anyone in my van spoke, was when a grasshopper jumped through our speeding van's window and caused a shriek-fest in the middle-back seats.
It was so dramatic; I wonder how those guys are going to protect our country in the future.
"Nata!~!!! Kill it! @!!! Kill it!!! Where is it?!>!? AHH!! IT'S MOVING!! KILL IT!!@! @#NATAAAAA@!!!"
We eventually survived, and reached Baucau at 6pm.
From some others, we received news that in the past few days, there was a little tension between the locals. The local police were riding around in open vans, making an announcement in Tatum, then in Portuguese, warning the people to stay away from violence.
I could only understand something along the lines of "no fighting or you'll be arrested. Everyone back in your homes by sundown." Their tone was extremely threatening.
For dinner, we went to Amalia’s restaurant, as recommended by the lecturer we met on the plane. The food there is delicious!
travelled 4 more hours to a mountain convent.
Using photos and words to describe it would never do the place any justice. The closest comparison I can think of are the Tibetan and Nepalese snowy mountains.
Vicky tried to teach the high schoolers “Old MacDonald had a farm”. She altered the lyrics into "Sister had a little farm~!"
Travelled another 4 hours back to our abode.
In the evening, we hopped over to the convent next door to set up 10 computers and have dinner. I fell sick for the rest of the trip, could not be of much help. I apologise for being a hindrance sometimes.
Travelled to Los Paulos, the supposed city of crocodiles, but we did not see any.
Set up many more computers in another convent school there. like every school but the first, their generator could not power up sufficiently, so not much could be done.
On the way back, the driver had to keep honking at the chickens (mainly), goats, and buffalo blocking the road. He told us that if a bull sat on the road, our minivan would probably flip over during the crash, and the buffalo could just get up and walked away leisurely.
We spent the day in silence and motion-sickness, travelling back to Dili.
went west to Ermera.
while the guys did their thing, I went with Vicky to teach the girls there how to sing Pass It On, Give Thanks, Morning Has Broken, You're My All In All, Welcome to the Family, and the Alphabet song.
We accepted a dinner invite at a Singaporean coffee processing plant. Bill and Natalie, thank you for the sumptuous barbeque.
As we sat around chatting, Natalie told us of a new health department their plant just opened, and offered me an internship. Bill held a very intellectual conversation about Timor's politics, etc, for over an hour. It felt like we were back in Singapore, hanging out for a meal and a decent conversation. Bill, Natalie, thank you for the homely reception, it took away my home-sickness.
There was one important point in the conversation that stuck to me quite deeply. The government claimed to have invested 70 million USD into improving the roads, but less than 700 thousand was actually put in. I think everyone has driven there could testify for that.
I left the main group with Vicky to visit the Mother Theresa's nuns in Aileu.
The altitude went up to 1300m, 864hPa.
We brought back a box of intricately created paper cards to sell. they were made by jobless mothers taught by a Polish sister there.
IT Joy Timor Leste shall set up a booth to sell each card at 4bucks each soon. all proceeds shall be flown to set up the orphanage there.
We also donated the rest of our instant noodles, snacks, sweets, and other miscellaneous usables, including around 200USD in cash.
Finally went back to the first convent for a gala/farewell dinner. The girls included us for another mass dance session from 8.15pm to 10.40pm, according to Sister Aurora.
When we finally stopped dancing and sat down for dinner, it was a silent, tired affair. Yet it was evident in everyone’s eyes that we were going to miss Timor Leste. There, we learnt many valuable lessons, how enjoyable a simple life is, and how to appreciate and cherish what we have been blessed with.
The final debrief was conducted in our room, before ending to pack/play the rest of the last night away. We addressed a lot of issues, left all our unhappiness behind, and assigned final work for the after-trip wrap up.
The 10 days must have exhausted me without any indication. I fell asleep while packing.
only while boarding the plane did I realise, 'our trip has concluded.'
Well, I guess that concludes the 11-day community involvement project in Timor.
This trip had lots of ups and downs.
there was insufficient planning and preparation due to poor communication abilities between Singapore and Timor Leste, printer toners being packed and sent wrongly, parallel cable, extra OS, etc not being prepared. It was still an enriching experience, however.
Like what Daniel said (at least, that's what my hazy memory tells me), shortcomings are inevitable, but they are what made the trip fun and enjoyable.
This trip has truly taught me how fortunate we are to be staying in Singapore, where everything is available at whim. We have tech shops, convenience stores, fast food restaurants all over the place! life in Singapore is so comfortable, we can even drink out of the taps!
In Timor, there are few street lights, 2 Singaporean-owned supermarkets, bottled mineral water that tastes funny after 3 hours, and the only decent food available are the hotel restaurants and a Singaporean-owned food court!
Here, we have buses, trains, cabs, all air-conditioned and clean.
In Timor, the people were hanging from outside the buses, no trains, cabs have no air-conditioning, the seats are all half-rotting and worn-out, and the rear-windows are pasted with posters and other paper things where the glass would have been.
Having been there and back, I appreciate our Singaporean government a lot more than I did at any point of time before. If Timor had someone like Lee Kuan Yew to lead them, there is no doubt that they'll be as booming within 10 years. They have oil, land, resources, and aid. the only thing Singapore had was people.
Hopefully someone reliable and worthy would step up to be Timor's Lee Kuan Yew.
Back to issues addressed in the final debrief.
In order to improve future overseas projects, different leaders should be appointed to be in-charge of different things. e.g., one person to pack the parallel cables, one to secure the software over, one in charge of adapters, another in-charge of banners, etc.
Each member should also put more initiative into the things we do, take up responsibilities and be accountable for them, and be more sensitive to each other’s feelings. There was a bit of bullying and teasing going on, but it was all good fun in the end.
The DPA students of our group talked everything through and agreed that we were just acting silly, and are still going to be.
Vicky, thank you for organising and planning such a meaningful community service project. Thank you for choosing the 13 of us out of 30 over people to go for this wonderful trip. It is a deep honour to be the first school ever to go into Timor Leste for community service, as a group. Even when things were getting hard, the budget was running out, and through other such problems, you took each one on as it came, and never blamed anyone for anything. It was a joy following your lead.
Michael, thank you for being our guide throughout the entire 11 days, renting the vehicles, bringing us out to eat, bridging the communication between us and them, and taking care of almost our every whim and fancy. Next time, it'll be our turn.
To the guys on the trip, all 11 of you, thank you for doing all the physical work, caring for one another, playing around and lightening up whatever tension that formed, teaching us life skills and lessons, and making this whole trip such a light-hearted affair. I have never gone overseas with such a fun bunch, and I hope to be able to lead another group with the school, following what you have taught me.
Jane, thank you for being the only other girl on this trip with me. You were such a generous roommate and pal during this trip, especially in the later half, where things were not flowing as smoothly as intended. Whatever the guys lacked in gentleness, you made up for it with your feminine charm. There are more things to thank you for than could ever be written. Thank you for everything.
Thank God for this wonderful trip.