Timor Tales

By Jess Mail
Rotaract Club of Canberra, ACT

I’ve never been so hot as the day I was handing out long-lasting insecticidal nets for Rotarians Against Malaria (RAM) in Manatuto, Timor Leste. All my sweat and exhaustion was forgotten, however, the moment I handed an elderly lady her first net. She was so excited she kissed me on both cheeks and repeatedly thanked me for it.

After a red eye flight from Canberra I walked into breakfast with all the nuns at the Carmelite Sisters Convent. The warmth and kindness provided by the nuns, and especially waking in the mornings to their marvellous singing, made every day in Timor extraordinary.

The first week we headed to Manatuto where we delivered approximately 9000 nets to every man, woman and child in five villages and six sub villages. During this time we held two training sessions; one for all the chiefs in the region and another for local volunteers. Each chief had to select a number of volunteers who would assist us with the local census. These volunteers were paid a wage to assist us. They were provided with information about malaria and how to undertake a census. One of the amazing aspects of RAM was that it not only provided malaria nets, it also provided 20 Manatuto locals with training and work experience during the project.

In the second week our 20 volunteers went house-to-house to count everyone in the five villages and six sub villages. We assisted on two occasions with this census. During this week we also visited the fabulous Rotary project in Baucau called East Timor Roofing and their Mini Silos Project, which assists locals with storing grains from one harvest to the next.

My third and final week in Timor was the hardest of all. The six of us worked from dawn ’til dusk each day in the heat. We were back at the health centre assisting with calculating the number of nets for each family and writing the pick-up slips (date, location and time). It was the first time in years I can remember having writer’s cramp. We had six Rotarians, seven Ministry of Health workers and 20 local volunteers all working in this extremely hot room for two very long days. One of the volunteers left some of his census papers back in this home village and had to walk five hours to pick them up. He got a surprise the next day when our youngest Rotarian picked him up in the four wheel drive.

The day before the net distribution all the volunteers went back to the local communities to hand out the pick-up slips for the Malaria nets. Rotarians assisted with driving volunteers from village to village. Two of us accompanied the Ministry of Health staff to announce over a loud speaker that tomorrow was distribution day. We visited every corner of Manatuto. I was sitting in the middle seat and jumped out at one point to take photos of the children listening to the loud speaker message – I forgot that the children did not have many visitors and that they would be intrigued by the colour of my skin. I was like a novelty and all the children were coming up to chat to me. They were very distracted by me and completely forgot about the malaria message, so there were no more photos for me.

Distribution day was a bit like Election Day. It started nice and early at the health centre where we assisted with putting the bundles of nets into the utes/four wheel drives. The six Rotarians broke up into three groups and went to the District centres. Before the distribution started all the communities members heard about how to use the malaria nets and why they are so important. My co-worker and I handed out over 1000 nets! It was a very hot and emotional day, but the response from community members receiving the nets was overwhelming. They were so grateful that Aussies had helped their small community.

The trip to Timor was a life changing experience for me and the people receiving the malaria nets. For more information on how you can support Rotarians Against Malaria visit www.ramaustralia.org or www.facebook.com/ram.australia.