REWARDS BEYOND MEASURE by Judy Blackman

Judy has shared her story of volunteering with her husband Philip in Timor Leste, (formerly  East Timor).  It is  inspirational and if you believe you have a skill to share there are many not for profit and government organisations who can help you make a choice of a country to go to. There are also lists of particular needs such as teaching, nursing, hands on skills and much more.   In many cases travel and living allowances are provided. 

Judy’s Story:

 I walked along the rough track dodging cow pats and puddles from the heavy monsoonal downpour the night before, enjoying the warm, tropical air, smell of the jungle, listening to the sound of frogs and had the distinct feeling that it was too good to be true.  Was I REALLY back in Fatuberliu, East Timor, a place that I love with a passion?

Judy With Special Friends

The answer was “yes”, even though the thought of going back there wasn’t even on our minds a month before. Philip and I had been sitting outside in the Winter sunshine eating a sandwich and reading texts from our grandson, Tim, when we looked at each other and said “why don’t we go and fix it?”  What needed “fixing” was the water supply to the boy’s boarding house attached to Assisi School in Fatuberliu where Tim was teaching.  The texts contained information that 49 of the 117 boys staying in the boarding house were suffering with Scabies – a horrible itching problem caused by bugs in the water.  In less than a fortnight we were on a plane headed for Dili where Philip bought tools and equipment to “fix” the water problem.  It was no mean feat chasing around Dili searching for a tank, pump, filter, taps, valves, plumbing tools and all the other tools needed to complete the task ahead.

Tim Blackman

We then made the seven hour journey on the road that winds up through magestic mountains, glorious countryside and tiny villages to the southern side of the island.   It was sheer joy to meet up with Tim and other dear friends that we’d made over past visits.  In 2009 when Tim was 16, he and I had gone to Assisi School to do voluntary work and it was seeing the value of education there that made him decide to become a teacher.  It was also where I fell deeply in love with East Timor and its’ people, leading to other visits.   It has been an amazing journey for Tim from Captain at Mudgee High School to university and an honours degree, teaching in Sydney and back at Assisi School teaching high school english, earning very little money and living in extremely basic conditions while working on his Ph.d.  His grandmother could not be prouder!

Philip With Student Workers

When we arrived in the Fatuberliu there was the usual Timorese warm welcome down at the boarding house – giving of thais, speeches (where we were welcomed as “family”) songs sung enthusiastically in Tetun, beautiful meal, warm smiles and lots of love.   We were then accommodated with 14 Franciscan Sisters (13 of them young trainees) in the lovely new convent and given the Bishop’s suite.  Wow!  On the first night the Sisters were singing “Ten Thousand Reasons”, a song I lead in the local Presbyterian Church and as I joined them they were ecstatic!  From then on they couldn’t do enough for us and there was nothing but beautiful hospitality, care, laughter, singing and fun.  I was amazed at the lack of barriers or divisions such as  Catholic/Protestant, old/young, rich/poor, colour or language  – just total acceptance and shared values.     The Sisters were busy with set tasks all day every day but never too busy to spend time with us and enjoy a laugh.  To them I was “Arvo” – that is Grandmother and I loved helping them in their beautiful  garden of flowers, tropical fruits and veggies or in the kitchen though their skills were much greater than mine in both spots.

Willing student workers in their Sunday best

Philip got tremendous satisfaction from being able to do another water project just like he’d done numerous times years ago with our two sons – Andrew and Rod (Tim’s father), on the Thai/Myanmar border in refugee villages – to this time with his grandson and 117 boys who all soon began calling him Grandpa.  Though the projects he’d done in the past were much bigger, he said this one was super special because of the delightful kids he was working with.  They were cooperative, learnt quickly and worked extremely hard in the tropical heat despite still having to attend school and do their usual chores. They shifted some 30 tonness of rocks by hand, made concrete and laid it without so much as a wheel barrow.  Philip seemed 30 years younger as he did what he loves best – improving the lives of people who are disadvantaged.   When one of the kids did something well he’d put his thumb up and say “good man, good man”.  In two and a half weeks the project was completed – new poly pipe, tank, pump and filter installed, an eight metre concrete washing trough made and large area cemented along with proper drainage.  This replaced the open cement tank that not only risked Scabies but water borne diseases and the muddy, stagnant surrounding areas.

New Washing trough and tank

The kids said the new area would be named  “the Good Man, Good Man Area”.  There were numerous challenges – power outage and phone outages, burnt out pump, monsoon rains and sickness but these paled to insignificance compared to the wonderful experiences we had and memories made.

Tears were shed as we said our final goodbyes and I pinched myself to make sure the visit had indeed been real and we were now beginning the long journey home to our other family and the big frosts.