Meeting the people of Railaco – GOLD!
A very fruitful relationship
The whole week, from June 23rd to 28th, was a very fruitful and memorable time for the 18 visitors and parishioners from the parish of St. Canice in Sydney Australia that spent the whole week in Timor.
The group visited the Railaco parish and some remote villages in Railaco and also the Jesuit schools in Kasait.
The aim of their visit was to see the reality and the progress of the Railaco parish in the programs that are supported by the St Canice’s KingsCross Sydney parish such as: feeding program, mobile clinic, NOSSEF high school, water project, and other projects of the Jesuit Social Services. . . . . .
Children delight at eating tasty food
This video is about Children eating tasty food brought by the Railaco Jesuit Mission in the remote sub-district Cocoa in East Timor.
It’s quite incredible that 100 children turn-up in the small sub-district of Cocoa outside Railaco today to greet us. Some are just babies carried in a sling by an older sibling, and others are nursed by their mothers. After announcing our arrival with the bagpipes, Khoda’s enthusiasm and passion sees him serving meals to the kids, and relating immediately to these youngsters through sparkling eyes, and the simple language of love.
Parishioners of St Canice’s Sydney initiated this children’s feeding program with Fr Bong of the Jesuit Railaco Mission way back in 2004, and they have been the main benefactor ever since. The sense of joy we take away is more than reward.
We leave a trail of happy kids following us in a cloud of dust.
Meeting ‘sons of Timorese’ (creados) who fought with Aussie troops in WWII
Chatting with the people, we learn more about the complex connections we have with these gentle people stretching right back to their assisting Australian troops in the second world war.
From the first day, traveling with Fr. Bong in the in the mobile medical clinic, we experience a higher dimension in the meaning of ‘authentic’.
Sitting sideways in the back of an old 4WD ‘storm trooper’, we leave a sealed road from the coast up to the mountains, and fall-in behind Fr Bong and his two assistants, who attend to patient ‘reception’ and ‘pharmacy’ duties in the back of his 4WD mobile medical clinic.
On reaching the small community at the end of this road through the bush built with pick and shovel by the local villagers, we see a line of women and children waiting to see the doctor.
Click on photo to play YouTube video.
Riding with Fr Bong in the mobile medical clinic
This video is about Elijah travelling with his mother Lynda with Fr Bong’s Mobile Medical Clinic outside Railaco, East Timor – a short video.
Lynda Slavinskis, Elijah’s mum writes: You can click here to get a handy copy of Lynda’s words.
When preparing for our visit to Timor Leste, I often wondered ‘what can I do to help? What can I give?’
Today on our visit to the remote mountain village of Fatu Besi, I realised that the greatest gift I could give was just to be me, a mother. I experienced the simple yet extraordinary power a smile and a gentle touch can have, in the absence of a shared language. It is the silent ‘knowing’, especially between mothers, that can engender trust and cement even the most unlikely of friendships.
After sharing mass and sitting a while with the people waiting to see Fr Bong in the medical clinic, Elijah and I went for a walk with Brother Apu to see the village. Along the way, we stopped to greet a mother Alita and her children Aveve and Akoli. Through some broken Tetum I had learnt from Apu only moments earlier and translation from him when needed, I was able to have a conversation with Alita. We sat in her sister’s home made of sticks, bamboo and corrugated iron and we bonded over our children.
Alita was so proud of her children, she beamed as she spoke about them. Through her smile, I could feel her love for them, which was only matched by the love I have for my Elijah. Elijah showed the children photos of our dog at home to their delight. We played peek-a-boo and laughed together. Akoli who was wary of us at the beginning, warmed to us quickly and started to introduce me to his cousins who all lived nearby and taught me new words in Tetum. Akoli looked like a toddler but was in fact 5 years old and I suspected wanted to show me he was a ‘big boy’ and peek-a-boo should be reserved for his baby sister!
In those treasured, simple moments spent with this family, I learnt that in motherhood there is no rich or poor, no division. There is only love, pride in our children and the desire to share experiences to achieve common ground.Motherhood is a club with automatic membership. It does not discriminate. Through motherhood, Alita and I became friends.
The key observation I made during our visit to Fatu Besi was that the people have great need, but they are NOT needy. They sang like angels, lead mass, waited so patiently to see the doctor, smiled like they were the happiest people on earth. This made me feel that our desire to ‘help’, although noble, perhaps needs to be reframed. I reflected after making the connection with my fellow mother Alita, that if we can make friends with our neighbours in Timor Leste, we become equals. We are not the givers and they the takers. We are able to sit together in conversation and connection like we did today, often with nothing more than a wink, a smile, a knowing look. We can inspire each other as friends do, help each other as friends do, love each other as friends do.
By moving the discourse away from ‘helping’ to ‘empowering’, from ‘feeding’ to ‘eating’, from ‘teaching’ to ‘sharing knowledge’ , from ‘watching’ to ‘noticing’, we can find common ground where our hearts beat to the same rhythm just like it does in motherhood, dance, song and smiles – all of which are universal experiences. Once common ground is achieved, we can then truly understand the need of our East Timorese friends and respond through trust and hope, slathered in love, to open up and achieve endless possibilities for the future.
Click on photo to open YouTube video:
Kids in remote village in East Timor stare in awe
Travelling into a remote sub-district, Khoda meets and shares a meal with children of the village. The Railaco Jesuit Mission in Railaco has been driving out to this village for fifteen years now. Khoda got busy chopping onions and garlic to help make the meal, before climbing aboard the stormtrooper to drive up the mountain to the village and help serve the Kids.
As we approach the remote village of Cocoa outside Railaco Mission with Christina and the lunch for the children of the village sloshing around in a big urn in the back of her 4WD, Khoda demands that the driver sits on the horn to announce our arrival.
If that noise wasn’t enough to frighten the daylights out of them, imagine how big and round their eyes were when Khoda alighted from the back of the stormtrooper he was travelling in with his mum, Odelia Potts, and started marching up to the gathered kids playing his bagpipes.
Click on photo to see Khoda telling us about his day in this one-minute video.
On the very first day for my group of six, we leave the sealed road from the coast up to the mountains and at an appointed junction, we fall-in behind Fr Bong in his carbon-belching old 4WD. His two assistants, who attend to patient ‘reception’ and ‘pharmacy’ duties travel with him in the back.
We jolt over almost impossible dirt tracks, hewn through thick bush by local villagers with pick and shovel to permit access to the outside world. And us! There we are, bones rattling, holding-on for grim death, but so excited, nonetheless. Our confident Timorese driver, Edu, manoeuvres around huge pot holes, deftly avoiding cave-ins, and using his gears to escape wheels spinning in slippery muddy patches. This evinces a few ‘holy shit’ moments not only from Juanita! Onwards, up and down and around the mountain trying to smile-away a sheer drop on one side, we finally reach the tiny village of Fatu Besi, where mothers with babes in arms and kids tugging on her skirt, and many elderly, are lining-up waiting for Fr Bong’s mobile medical clinic.
As Bong visits this particular post only once a fortnight, he also celebrates Mass in the beautiful chapel, (built by Franciscans, complete with flushing toilets and water tanks). The singing at Mass is beautiful, as though a choir has been brought-in to welcome us.
Fr Bong asks me to say a few words about our visit. I respond with the message of our being neighbours, wishing to be good neighbours who exchange kindnesses and ‘share’ with each other. Amazingly, this seems to strike at the heart. After the final Blessing, every person in the church comes up to each of us in turn, takes our hand, and kisses it, or bows respectfully, touching our hands with their heads. Moving!
Fr Bong writes to us”Peace, michael!
I just want to let you and your group know how thankful and inspired the railaco mission community, most especially i, of your visit and the gifts you bring!Gifts of yourself and all else you brought with you, from the medical, clothes, to toys & tooth brushes affirms that we are all together in the mission!May the Lord bless you and nurture the best in all of you! Thank you!!!Bong
‘Song, Dance, Music creates Equals’ – in East Timor
Song, dance, music is a universal language that creates equals. This brings us so much closer to these little children and their families in poor remote communities outside Railaco. Every time we do it a barrier comes down.
A fellow traveller wondered what lay behind the people’s bright smiles? How could they be so happy given the trauma they had suffered in the past and the obvious poverty they dealt with today? Lynda Slavinskis answer is hope.
The key observation I made during our visits to the villages and schools in Timor Leste was that the people have great need, but they are NOT needy. The people are filled with faith, hope and love. They dance and smile like they are the happiest people on earth.
Even the malnourished children at the feeding program dance. The people are grateful for and proud of the freedom they fought so hard to achieve.
Elijah “Tiger” Slavinskis sings for the children of Cocoa village outside Railaco Mission. The St Canice’s KingsCross Sydney people were happy to have a leader to lead us in song. We were giving back’ in response to the children, who had entertained us when we arrived.
Song, dance, music is a universal language that creates equals. This brought us so much closer to these little children and their families. Every time we did it a barrier came down. Especially in the those very poor remote villages, shoulders dropped, both us and them, and we relaxed, feeling very comfortable with each other.
While the wider Jesuit community is ‘nation-building’, we at St Canice’s have been making what is seen by the people in Railaco as a monumental commitment to their welfare, healthcare, nutrition, and educational needs of their children since 2004, and we are committed to continue.
We would like you, our St Canice’s Community, to better understand the activities in Railaco that are supported by your generosity.
A very special relationship has existed between Australia and Portuguese Timor since World War II when brave Timorese protected, provided food, and saved the lives of the remaining six hundred and seventy Australian soldiers of the ‘Sparrow Force’ as the Japanese invaded their country in World War II.
This generosity of spirit of the Timorese people was not lost on a group of Australians from St Canice’s Jesuit parish in Kings Cross Sydney when they visited East Timor sixty years later, shortly after Independence was granted. This small party of Australians was looking to see ways in which they could stand in solidarity and contribute to the life of the now impoverished people; gentle people so afflicted by centuries of colonisation, by brutal invasion and occupation by Japan and Japanese reprisals for aiding our Australian troops, by their own civil war, and having endured the Indonesian occupation.
Motherly instincts ignited Sydney company director and grandmother Sue Crabbe’s passion for doing something about the dreadful malnutrition and undersized babies she saw running around in the villages. Sue said,
“It’s incomprehensible seeing goats that aren’t being milked and chickens producing eggs, such great sources of protein, that aren’t being used to feed the children. It’s so confronting meeting women who don’t have the basic knowledge that might keep their child alive”.
The opportunity to provide education of a most basic nature, coupled with finding a way to provide a nutritious meal for these children could not be ignored. The St Canice support group joined in solidarity with Filipino Jesuit and medical doctor Fr Martin Bong at the Railaco Jesuit Mission in the mountains outside Dili. They committed to provide funding to establish a Children’s Feeding Program and a Mobile Medical Clinic. A second-hand 4WD sourced from the Australian Defence Forces was purchased, and very shortly thereafter children were being fed, and people in remote mountain villages had the services of a doctor, and medicine for the first time.
Another strong suggestion from another enthusiastic Jesuit parish priest and engineer was the need for a school. The support group returned to Sydney emboldened by Fr Hermes claim that with $10,000 he could build two classrooms. Months later, the new Railaco school was open! The man was an enabler. The Canice’s group – ‘do-ers’!
An open shed, with rusty corrugated iron roof and crooked posts that housed the first elementary school is long dismantled. Children would walk for up to two hours a day to come to school and didn’t bring any food or drink with them for the day. Sister Rita, a Good Samaritan nun, using her experience as a principal in large secondary schools in Australia joined to contribute her expertise and care. Only two months ago, a canteen to provide students, who have walked long distances, can now provide these two hundred children with a nutritious daily meal.
Another of the support group from St Canice’s, Michael Musgrave, writes about his recent experiences bouncing along ungraded rocky ridges and stony river beds with Fr Bong’s mobile medical clinic He says,
”Arriving at the first community, I see a long line of mothers with children on well-suckled breasts; many still in their teens. Others, including the elderly with rough-hewn walking poles for support, have walked for up to an hour across tough terrain to see the doctor”.
Fr Bong consults; Luzia dispenses medicines from the back of the 4WD, and Joanna keeps the medical records for all the patients, before packing up and driving to the next village. Michael goes on to say:
“The annual funding of the Children’s Feeding Program, the Mobile Medical Clinic and the support we provide to the Secondary School is approximately $70,000. In the ten years since inception of the special East Timor relationship, the St Canice community has raised in excess of half a million dollars towards these programs”. (Now, in 2018, the amount raised has reached $800,000.)
Whilst we will continue with fundraising in the Canice community, your one-off donation will ensure that the amazing work done by all of those at Railaco to aid the East Timorese people can continue to be carried on in the future.
All contributions are tax deductible and are deposited in the Australian Jesuit Mission Overseas Aid Fund. The money is sent to the Bursar of Jesuit Mission in Dili, who ensures that your donations are spent on the programs outlined here.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to become a regular donor and how the money is used in Railaco – please email Michael Musgrave at [email protected].
Parish Ambassador MICHAEL MUSGRAVE’S VISIT TO RAILACO – JUNE 2017
St Canice’s KingsCross Sydney has enjoyed a sister parish relationship with Railaco Mission in East Timor for the past thirteen years.
As we nourish our parish, we colour Timor’s future!” Our accompaniment allows Railaco’s marginalised families to grow in community, opportunity and hope. Our impact extends far beyond a simple nutritious meal, a medical check-up, and a class in school; we are allowing Railaco villagers to lead better lives now and for generations in the future.
Our ongoing involvement keeps us aware; it reminds us of our privilege; and gives us the opportunity to gain in a spiritual way. Our life is enriched by the work that is done there!
Parishioner Michael Musgrave, our lead Ambassador to Railaco, recently made his third visit to Timor. He was looking for answers to other questions that impact Australians attitudes towards East Timor today to better inform himself, and in turn to share with fellow Canice parishioners.
Michael says, “When chatting with potential donors, I’m often asked ‘Why East Timor? Don’t we have enough needy people here at home to worry about?’; and ‘What is life really like up there in the villages?’
While living day-to-day with the Jesuits for ten days, answers to these and other questions evolved. My goal for the trip was primarily to gather new information about the kids, the school, and the mothers whom we help, and then to make a video to share with you.
As the days rolled on, I became conscious of a burning inner desire to share more of what I was learning.
I was hoping that with a little more awareness, more of us here at St Canice’s might be motivated to ‘climb on board’, to become ‘sowers of seed’, and become actively involved in raising funds to enable those on the front lines, to continue with their service to the poor.
It may be a little ‘tongue in cheek’, but I labeled my report: ‘The First Letter of Michael to the Caniceians’.”
The actual report can be read on the parish webpage. PLEASE CLICK HERE
NEW RAILACO VIDEOS – 2017
‘Thank You St Canice’s’ from Railaco
Mobile Medical Clinic – 28th February 2018
The mobile medical clinic is a healthcare program run by Jesuit mission in Timor-Leste, and supported by St Canice’s Jesuit parish in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. It covers eleven areas in the districts of Ermera and Liquica. It’s primarily managed by Filipino Jesuit Father Antonio Martins Abad-Santos. Every year it offers medical care to more than 5000 people.
Read this article from UCANEWS.
View 3-minute illuminating video:
History in Blog posts over the years up until the present
The story of the Jesuit Mission in Railaco can be tracked in the series of “Letters from Railaco” and other posts in our Railaco blog.
Click here to read.
The genesis of our Railaco relationship
Watch this video from 2010 to better understand the genesis of the relationship between St Canice’s and Railaco Jesuit Mission. It explains earlier days of our outreach to the people of East Timor; showing how the people of the Jesuit Mission are working in conjunction with the locals; helping them to find solutions; and creating them as ‘agents of change’.
2009 – The Railaco ‘Feeding Program’ and ‘Mobile Medical Clinic’
On our first morning in Railaco, we take off with Cristina and Judith to deliver a nutritious meal to children in the mountain villages of Cocoa and Cattarehei. I’m tantalised all the way over the rough roads by the smell of what’s swilling in the large pots. Bamboo and bananas give a touch of the tropics in what is very much a dry, Australian-type mountain landscape covered in Eucalyptus trees.
The warmth and welcome we receive on arrival at the little gathering place on the edge of a green playing area in Cattarehei is difficult to convey in words. Children in wide-eyed innocence and even wider smiles nod their head, bow and kiss the back of my hand as a sign of respect for their ‘elder’. The children’s ages range from eight months to nine years and they’ve come to rely on this food program three times a week. Children come with clean plates and spoons which Bong and others have taught them is better than using their hands.
Before dishing out the rice and chicken with beans, choko, carrots and potato in a soy liquid, the children sing for us. A worn-out mother of nine, but nonetheless impassioned, expresses her thanks for all that St Canice’s is doing for her children and for others who are there who do not have parents. The usual shyness seems to evaporate suddenly and all the children sing and clap for us!
Photo Album: Jesuit Mission Feeding Program
Many graduates aspire to office jobs because they see that as ‘status’ (The Portuguese colonisers were all sitting in an office!) A greater awareness of trades and other jobs would alleviate the issue. In many countries, the tourism industry is a major employer, but wider range tourism remains a long way off in Timor-Leste until essential infrastructure – hotels, transportation, roads, toilets at beaches etc improve.
Please click link below to read the ABC News story of bravery by Timorese Villagers
Thankfully, Jesuits working on the frontiers are trustworthy and use every dollar caringly. Thank you for your ongoing generosity.
Newsletters from the Jesuits in East Timor
Before Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, he “entrusted the message ” (lia-tatoli) to mankind in order to bring it into the worship and comfort of peoples. “You go to convey My word”. The Jesuits Region in Timor- Leste calls us all to channel the responsibility and give each other a close look at Jesus. “The message entrusted to us” (lia-tatoli) wants to connect all of us who are friends on the journey of Jesus and who share the mission of Jesus Christ. ‘Lia-tatoli’ now becomes the official Newsletter of the East Timor Region.
Food and Nutrition Security in Railaco
Timor – Leste is one of the developing countries that is still food insecure. Many people in the rural areas of Timor are still living in poverty and around seventy percent of the population rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods.
Please click on this link to read the Newsletter: