Opening Ceremony: Timor-Leste Scout Activity Centre

“This Centre stands as a testament to the commitment of Scouts Australia to support its near neighbours in developing Scouting for the benefit of their young people,” said Governor-General and Chief Scout of Australia, the Hon Sir Peter Cosgrove.

Sir Peter was commenting on the official opening of the Timor-Leste Scout Activities Centre in Metinaro, outside Dili. His Message was read at the special ceremony for the opening.

The Centre was a joint initiative by Scouts Australia and the ACT Government. Working in partnership, the required funds were raised to construct the multi-purpose facility.

“This Centre is the first of its kind in Timor-Leste”, Neville Tomkins, International Commissioner, Scouts Australia, said in addressing the 300 VIPs, leaders and youth at the opening on Friday 26 September 2014. “But it is far more than bricks and mortar – it is a symbol of growth of Scouting in Timor-Leste, and will be the emotional home of Scouting in this country for generations to come.”

“This has been Scouts Australia’s largest international project, to help build a better world,” Neville said. “We also hope this Centre will provide opportunities for Scouting to grow over the coming decades, and to contribute to the growth of this nation.”

The opening marked the end of 4 years of dedicated effort by Neville. He was the main driver behind the “Dollars for Dilli” campaign, which raised close to a quarter of a million dollars for projects in Timor-Leste. He also project-managed the construction working remotely.

Timor-Leste is Australia’s second nearest neighbour. It is the world’s newest nation, but one of its poorest. Over half of the population are under the age of 18, which presents significant challenges for Timor-Leste, but also enormous opportunities for Scouting.

The President of the National Parliament, His Excellency Mr Vicente Guterres, and Minister Mick Gentleman MLA, representing the people of Canberra, opened the Centre, noting that Dili and Canberra are Friendship Cities. Dr Chao, Chairman, Asia-Pacific Region of World Scouting, Reg Williams, Chief Commissioner, and David Jones, National Chairman, were on hand to witness the opening.

Venturer Service in Timor-Leste

Crystal Limcango and Partick Arellano, Capernaum Venturer Unit, Catholic Archdiocese Scout Group

Our mission was to volunteer our services to paint and landscape the newly constructed National Scout Activity Centre in Metinaro. At 7am, on Sunday the 29th of June 2014, we took on the voyage to accomplish our mission. There were many obstacles along the way, the smallest of unexpected events made the trip more worthwhile. On our arrival at Dili airport, we were welcomed with humidity and warmth. The airport was small, only because not many people travel in and out of Timor Leste.

Works at the Metinaro site

On Monday we travelled to Metinaro, up hills which had hidden villages and spontaneous holes in the ground. The site where we would be completing our service project was still a construction site and therefore deemed unsafe for us to use as our accommodation. This led to temporary homelessness until Duarte Amaral, Principal of the local school, came to our rescue by allowing us to stay at the school in two of the classrooms. School in Metinaro starts at 7am, with morning exercises at 5:30am every morning, 6 days a week. The school educated 500 students from kindergarten to primary with 10 classrooms. During our two stay at Metinaro we enjoyed the company of the many Cubs and Scouts.

We returned to Dili on Tuesday. In Dili we went to Torismo in Becora where we were warmly welcomed by a large number Scouts and Venturers. After our introductions, we played games and enjoyed an afternoon tea. We danced the Macarena, exchanged smiles and laughter. We also exchanged contact details, surprisingly Faceboook names as well.

On Wednesday, we visited the Nicolau Lobato School in Tasi Tolu. Although this school was only twenty minutes away from the previous school we attended, the scenery had changed so much. We again introduced ourselves and talked about our personal interests and our lives. We then were taken to a site of the 3 Lagoons. Yes, when we heard the word ‘Lagoon’ we thought ‘beautiful’ or ‘lovely’ but the lagoons were very special. We conducted a Scouts Own and prayed as one, after we had learnt the significance of these Lagoons and the historical context. During the Indonesian occupation people who were killed during that time were thrown into the Lagoon and their bodies were never recovered. It was a very emotional time for all. Every single one of us had tears in our eyes and our smiles were momentarily taken away by such sadness. It was extremely challenging to comprehend the history of lagoons. Filomena Reis, International Commissioner, then reminded us to not feel saddened but “Be strong” as the time is over and we must continue to keep fighting for freedom throughout the world. This visit was one of the highlights of our entire trip.

Thursday came and we visited the Rovers of the Emaus Group located at Gembel Art Community Centre in Bidau Licidere where we immersed ourselves in the Timor Leste art, learning the meanings behind art pieces. We gave them a drawing to show our gratitude for their hospitality and in return they gave us a colourful sculpture.

Next day, being Friday, we returned to Metinaro to paint the Activity Centre and with the assist of many of our Timorese Scouting brothers and sisters, we were able to successfully paint the interior and exterior of the building which was the aim of our service project.

This trip was a life changing experience in many ways. It challenged personal virtues such as patience, challenged the luxuries we take for granted as some of us experienced squat toilets for the first time. It strengthened faith, the value of using hand sanitiser, the worries of taking malaria pills every morning in fear that one mosquito bite could make us sick, even though in our environment this would have been the least of our worries. We learnt personally what not to take for granted and how privileged we are for the opportunities we are given in life. But most importantly, the establishment of lifelong friendships which is worth more than anything you could take away from the journey, and as the Timorese would say:

“we don’t have anything to offer you, only our friendship.”

Farewell photo with the scouts and leaders from Metinaro Group