Aug 28 12 7:34 PM

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This post has NOTHING to do with Germantown but may be of interest to readers who remember how much the nuns did for us and what good deeds--usually unheralded--nuns continue to do for others.

When I was with the UN in East Timor in 2000, I met two 'plainclothes' nuns, Sr. Michelle Reid and Sr. Eileenrita Hayes, of the Melbourne-based community of Good Samaritan sisters. I translated the mathematics curriculum and textbooks from Indonesian into English so that Sr. Rita could train math teachers. We became great friends and it was a consolation to my husband, who had been left behind in Australia, that my best friend while I was away for six months was a nun.

Sr. Rita has stayed in ET (now officially named Timor Leste) all these years and sends a newsletter every couple of months. Some of you whom I've met through this blog have been receiving these newsletters and maybe others will be interested in what goes on in a poor mountain village in coffee-growing country in TL. This one arrived this morning. (In it, Sr. Rita mentions the death of Br. Dan Courtney CFC, whom I met back in 2000, when he dropped in to my little lunchtime English class on the beach. RIP Br. Dan. Also, we would be wise to emulate the behavior of the E. Timorese during their recent elections. All in all, Sr. Rita's letter reminds us of how good we have it. Give thanks.)


Railaco Letter No. 3

29 August, 2012

Vol Vl: No. 3

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Can’t think why it has been so long since my last Newsletter! Perhaps conveying the news by mouth to our many visitors has made me think I have also written about events.

· We are well into the dry season albeit a strange one. Day after day we have had afternoon heavy cloud cover and I can’t remember this happening at this time of the year before. In Railaco the mornings have been very cold and the nights equally so. It is great for sleeping, not so great for the cold ‘dipper’ shower! People in Dili have also said some of their mornings have been cold, and that is quite strange!

· Another difference for us this year is that, thanks to our newly installed water bore, pump and retaining tanks, the school, church/clinic and our nearest community have had an abundant supply of water. What a blessing it is and, together with our generous donors, is a daily cause for gratitude.

· This comes close to worst experience ever – on way to the bathroom in the dark of night I went down a step and stood on a rat, literally squashing it to death! Instead of rejoicing over its demise I can still hear and feel the squelsh!!!

· The coffee has been picked and is being sold. It has been a good coffee crop but the price has been reduced for the farmers from 50c to 37c per kilo for the raw bean. Has the price been reduced in the stores back home??? One coffee company sent a letter to all the farmers explaining why the price has been reduced for this year. Among the reasons are: Farmers are picking poor quality beans and these have to be separated from the good ones; some picked beans haven’t been dried sufficiently; and there is a glut of coffee in the markets so prices have come down. I am so pleased for all you coffee drinkers back home that you are now able to purchase much cheaper coffee!

Keeping to the coffee topic it is very disappointing that in the new Timor Plaza in Dili (this is the first western style shopping centre in Timor) Gloria Jean’s is about to open. We have banners announcing the fact over every Dili street intersection. Am so sorry some entrepreneur didn’t open a boutique Timor-style coffee shop using the incomparable Timor coffee in an ambience reflecting Timorese culture. I think if Dili were closer to Railaco this could be our ‘spare-time hobby’! Am being very influenced by recently reading “The Tea Rose”, a ripping yarn left to me by one of our visitors!

· In my last letter I spoke about the Presidential election. We have now had the election for Timor’s new Government. Despite some negative publicity that I read about in sections of the Aussie press, these elections went very well. Political parties had been urged by leaders of Church and State to refrain from any violence against opposition parties, by either words or actions, and this was adhered to remarkably well. The election process itself went smoothly and efficiently and I have nothing but admiration for the political maturity of this ten-year old nation. Xanana’s CNRT Party has formed a Government with the support of a minor party and Fretlin Party is the main opposition party. It remains to be seen now how quickly the National Plan for Development, outlined by Xanana and his previous government, can be implemented.

· Road infrastructure is the topic on everyone’s lips. The good news about the improvement in our mountain road to Railaco Craic is a tiny little bright spot in a really dire situation regarding the state of the roads here. Driving along every road now is like participating in a hazard course. We have labelled one section on the road to Dili ‘the Grand Canyon’. During the wet season it was filled with water and cars ploughed through having a steep descent down into the section and an equally steep ascent from the other end. On one side is a deep drop down into the valley below and on the other side of this narrow section are the mountain trees. Water continually flows into the ‘canyon’ from springs in the mountain. Despite it now being the dry season there is still water seeping from the mountainside, but much water has drained away and we can see just how deep the canyon is! We are all hoping that there is land underneath it because it gets deeper, and deeper as the days go by. There is not much time for relief at having got through it successfully than the next hole, crevasse, landslide or fall-away is to be negotiated.

· Many readers would already be aware that Br Dan Courtney CFC has died after being eleven years in a comatose condition in hospital in Brisbane. Dan was the Founder of Comunidade Edmund Rice, an NGO established by the Christian Brothers in the mountains of Railaco to serve and promote the development of the Timorese. Dan is beloved of the people in these mountain villages and in the suburb of Fatuhada, Dili for the courageous risks he took for them in 1999, for his obvious love for these people and for his preparedness to live and work with them for the long haul after Independence was achieved. These plans were cut short with Dan’s tragic motor bike accident on the road to Railaco in October, 2001. Due to Dan’s welcoming presence and his great generosity the CER house at Fatuhada became the first port of call for just about every Aussie ex-pat arriving in Timor prior to Independence. He accompanied Sr Michelle Reid sgs and I in 2000, when we first went to Timor, provided us with accommodation and then found alternative accommodation for us when we had to move on because the Marist Bros had previously ‘booked in’! There are so many of us who have cause for much gratitude to Dan for his well-spring of kindness. I can remember vividly travelling to the various villages to tell them of Dan’s accident and one tribute remains clearly with me. A spokesperson at one village summing up their love for Dan said: “He was never angry with us”. In the context of the brutality and the oppression that they had so recently experienced Br Dan stood for something other and he was very special to them.

Two of the villages have had special memorial Masses for Dan, and thanks to the help of Brs Francis and Peter CFC I was able to attend them. Dan would have been thrilled at the Craic Mass because the greater part of the preparations were done by one of the village graduates from the Bacau Teachers’ College. Lourença, who undertook her training on our scholarship programme, was only a little girl when we were renovating the small house in Craic. She used to come and press her nose against the windows we had put in because she had never seen glass! She was one of Dan’s favourites and used to run to meet him when he came up to the village.

· On the Feast of St Mary MacKillop there was a special Mass in the Becora church that preceded the blessing and opening of the Josephite Sisters’ MacKillop Training Centre situated directly opposite the church in Becora. This, specially built, centre is to train the Timorese in Music, Health, and Literacy and Numeracy. Bishop Alberto Ricardo of Dili concelebrated Mass with Bishop Hurley of Darwin and a number of priests. The Centre has an enthusiastic staff of Timorese who delighted in showing us around, and presenting their own musical skills as well as that of their tiny students, who captivated everyone. There is one Josephite Sister at the Centre but for this special occasion their Congregational Leader, Anne Derwin was present as well as several Sisters from Australia. There were many Aussies in attendance, both ex-pats and visitors, with much talking and many re-unions occurring as well as a great feast enjoyed by all.

· July saw many visitors coming to Railaco. The first to arrive were two teachers from Mount St Benedict’s, Pennant Hills who gave our students a wonderful experience of being involved with art. The students didn’t want the sessions to stop and while any one class was involved, other classes were clamouring that they have a session! The total concentration on the students’ faces had to be seen to be appreciated. It was a great time for our students and I know it was a week that delighted the hearts of the art teachers!

Actually overlapping this visit was a group comprising three teachers and sixteen students representing every Jesuit College in Australia. The teachers and the eight girls and eight boys camped in two of our classrooms. As part of their immersion experience the group accompanied Fr Bong on his medical clinic and went with our Feeding Programme staff to see this work in action. Of the greatest benefit to us, at the school, was the interaction of the group with our students and the resultant sharing of skills and making of friendships. I took particular note of how quickly some of the Timorese picked up on the skills of AFL and the distances they could kick with bare feet!

During this visit I was very ably helped by an ex-student from St Mary’s, Wollongong, Mija Crasnich. The visitors were joined for meals by our Railaco community and, of necessity, we had to eat outdoors. Mija and Lucy Yoong, our sewing teacher, set tables, helped with cooking and undertook the big wash-ups as if these were the activities they most wanted to do in life!

· Other very welcome visitors during this time were Janice and Stephen Creenaune, teachers from Wollongong; Bill Walsh and Wendy O’Connor both just retired from Catholic Education Commission, New South Wales; Beth McLeod, who accompanied students from Australian Catholic University who were implementing a sports programme in Bacau, and Dr Andrew Leong and his wife, Mary, a nurse, looking at a possible ministry opportunity in Timor Leste.

· On a number of occasions we played host to members of the Society of Jesus and welcomed the opportunity to meet those who came as visitors to Timor or who are going to be part of the mission here. These included: Fr Teodulo “Ted” Gonzales SJ, Family Ministry and now on sabbatical, and who is to be Formator for SE Asian Jesuit seminarians in Jogjakarta from September; Fr Peter Ura SJ from Japan, Educator with the new Jesuit school, Colego Sto Inacio de Loyola (CSIL) at Kasait, just out of Dili; Fr Roberto Rivera SJ on Tertianship, final stage of Jesuit formation, doing an immersion experience in Railaco; Bro Juzito Rebelo SJ, Timorese Jesuit seminarian (Scholastic) on philosophy studies in the Philippines and here for home visit; Fr Robert Boholst SJ, newly ordained priest from the Philippines, assigned to CSIL; Bro Marito Monteiro SJ, Timorese seminarian (Scholastic) on philosophy studies in Chennai; Bro Isaias Caldas SJ, Timorese seminarian (Regent) who has been assigned to CSIL; Fr Quyen Vu SJ, Educator from Australian Province assigned to CSIL; Bro Rui Monteiro SJ from Portugal, Scholastic assigned to CSIL.

There has been some movement out of Railaco: Fr Bong has been to Thailand for a week where he has been participating in a Social Services Seminar for Jesuits in the SE Asian Province.

· We have just returned to school after the semester holidays. There was no school the first week back as the teachers “were too tired” to come!!!

· Prior to the Independence Day celebrations huge billboards welcoming the various Presidents and Prime Ministers of support countries have been on display. The billboard featuring Quentin Bryce was the first to be seen as one entered Dili. It has remained in position until now but, sadly, has met its fate due to the winds. I am going to miss Quentin’s smiling face greeting us as we enter Dili!

Do hope you are not all “too tired” to read this!

Rita and the Railaco Mission Team