Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Final Moments

As Brendan and I sit at the front of our house and watch our neighbors go by - walking with their small children, catching up with friends and relatives, or going to buy fresh vegetables for dinner - we prepare ourselves to leave this place in only 1 week to begin the journey back to America.

We will have to been gone for over 1 year, 10 months of that we have been in Timor Leste. During that time we've been through flooded rivers, dengue fever, earthquakes, met large families in wood and tin shacks, swam with a crocodile, and learned from the eye witnesses about the massacres and terror that have stalked this people through the 20th century.

More simple difficulties included adjusting to a culture where most people eat rice 3 times a day, the months of cold bucket showers, doing all the cooking on 2 gas burners, dealing with power outages and often no running water (and that the drinking water was unsafe when it was running), and washing all our dishes and clothes by hand.

But what has made every minute worth it is what we're always talking about: the people! The people here are quick to open their hearts to you, to trust you like you are part of the family, and they are disarmingly generous with the little they have.

And they have taught us so much! It's difficult now to know how much we've changed from living and working with them these 10 months, but even now some inspirations stick out.

They've taught us:

How to Live a Simple Lifestyle

In America, a lot of people talk about simplifying their lifestyle or living simply. The problem is that everyone's definition of living simply is different - to one it might mean giving up the daily Starbucks trip and to another it might mean only eating out 3 times a week instead of more often. But there's a radical difference between that simple living and the dirt or concrete floor, few modern conveniences, limited access to safe drinking water existence of many people in East Timor and all over the world.

Brendan and I have blended Western and Timorese living styles together this year (for health and nutritional reasons), but the Timorese side has taught us to appreciate so many more things than we did before. One example is laundry - it will be sooo nice to be able to use a laundry machine when we get home... but we hope that we will never forget the women who are washing clothes daily for their big families by hand (we had it easy with only 2 people). Everyone knows that we shouldn't take privileges for granted, but to a certain extent, until you've been to a developing country, you can't understand except academically just how many little things we should be appreciating.

How to be Rich in Family

Recently, Brendan and I were going for a walk and we ran into one of the high school seniors from Canossa while she was on her way with her sisters and cousins to a celebration. She was chatting with us and she told us a story of a conversation she had with her Dad. Her Dad had just come home from work and was sitting down working on something new when she approached him and exclaimed, "Dad, we are sooo rich!" Her Dad looked up in surprise and confusion because he knew, while they weren't hurting as badly as some other families, they were by no means rich.

To alleviate his confusion she continued,"...In family, Dad. We are rich in family!" And her Dad smiled. The student has brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins who all live nearby and are very supportive of each other and her family. I know exactly what she's talking about, as the oldest of 7 kids with both Mom and Dad's sides of the family in our home city. But I think I am one of the few lucky Americans to know the 'rich in family' joy, compared to the many Timorese in this family-oriented society. It's a sad thing that our independent attitude and our 0,1, or 2 child-norm seems to be costing many of us.

Living in 3 different countries now for a significant amount of time, it's clear that Italy and East Timor's cultures each have some parts that are better than ours and some worse. But one big difference is the closeness in families, especially with all generations living very close to each other or even in the same house. Going along with this, especially in Timor, is a much greater sense of respect for the elderly and the very young (including the unborn). This special respect for all people of all ages is a virtue that our own culture, sadly, often fails to show.

How to Be Rich in Faith

Brendan and I came to East Timor to support the people in their faith and to show them Jesus' love in practical ways, but I think they have helped our faith to grow even more. The witness of how they live their faith is a constant challenge to me.

One example of this is their incredible hospitality. They will sit on the floor or stand so that a guest can have a chair, and they will go hungry so they can offer a guest some food. They will give all they can and then apologize that they have not done enough. They freely give from their daily living money, instead of from their excess. As a "saver" who is more likely to save to have extra and then give from that, I am often humbled in their presence. Their overwhelming generosity is what Christians should be known for and not always are.

Another aspect of their faith that has had a lasting impact on me is their resilience through incredible suffering. It's true that everyone suffers, but here men, women, and children have died early from violence, young people have been killed without warning for peacefully protesting, and Sisters have been murdered on missions of mercy giving food and medicine to refugees. And not only the violence, but the suffering that is byproducts of conflict have killed or wounded many here: hunger, homelessness, and disease. I imagine that experiencing all these things may hurt you in a more traumatic way than other examples of suffering.

Yet, in their suffering, so many of them have looked to God for comfort and found strength in Him to start again and to rebuild and support others in doing the same. I don't know if I would be that strong in the same circumstances. All I can say is that to be with them and to hear their stories is to to be inspired.

Our friend Cas, a volunteer from Australia, described the witness of their faith very well. She said that here (compared to at her home) the people really pray and the people really sing. They put their heart and soul into it because Jesus is their Source, as He should be for all of us. The constant crazy changes in developing countries provide an opportunity for them and us to much more fully depend on God for our daily needs. And when we depend on God, we have found over and over again that He is faithful.


So that is a very short summary of some important things we learned this year. This will be the last blog written from East Timor, although there may be more from America as we have a chance to further process our experiences and what we've learned. We hope you have enjoyed reading this blog throughout our journey and that you have grown somehow too.

Please pray for us during our week long journey home for health and safe travels. And if you would like, you can meet us at the Des Moines airport October 1st! We will be flying in a little before 8 pm on that Thursday night and we would love to see you there. If that doesn't work try to see us as soon as possible. We've missed you all!

Love Always, In Christ, Your friends,
Rachel and Brendan

P.S. Also published today is the blog on Sharing Our Witness just below this one. Read that too if you get a chance.

Sharing Our Witness

Recently Brendan and I have been excited to have some opportunities to share our witness. The first was right before the day remembering the life and example of Saint Magdalene of Canossa (an Italian Mother Teresa who founded the Canossian Sisters). The Sisters and the 80 girls who live at the school had been doing a novena that would finish on the eve of St. Magdalene's feast day. Sister Terezinha invited us to help with the prayer on that evening.

We prayed and sang psalms together in Tetum and read scriptures. Then out of nowhere Sr. T asked us if we would be willing to share our witness of our recent life and how we ended up in East Timor. So we stood up and told all the students and Sisters how God had worked mini-miracles in our lives to bring us to East Timor and what He has been teaching us here. They seemed to understand and appreciate what we said. We just hope it will encourage them to really strive to know Jesus more and to have a good attitude about the crazy twists that happen in life that God uses to get you where He wants you.

Another opportunity came when we were asked to be on a vocations panel at a Singles for Christ retreat. Here in Timor there are very strong and supportive programs for Kids for Christ, Youth for Christ, Singles for Christ, and Couples for Christ. Each group meets regularly for prayer, praise and worship, and to encourage each other in the faith. We've been really impressed by the people who organize all of them, who we see at Mass every week and who have been a blessing to meet.

So we agreed to be on the panel, talking about both marriage and missions as potential vocations. It was a 2-day retreat and the young people were pumped up for God by the time we got there for the workshop the 2nd day. Among the speakers were a Sister (Sr. Sonia), a priest, another married couple, an international lay missionary, and us as married volunteers/missionaries. All were Timorese except us and Sr. Sonia, who is Filipino.

It was beautiful for us to see all these people - most were young graduates our age trying to pray and search out what vocation God is preparing them for. They were at this retreat hoping to hear from God in a special way.

The vocations talks also seemed very helpful for them. We couldn't understand all of the fast Tetum of the Timorese speakers, but the retreatants laughed often at the speaker's anecdotes and were also very attentive when speakers shared about more difficult times in the discernment process. For us, in addition to our mission experience, we shared about dating throughout college and trying to pursue purity in our relationship, while discerning whether or not we were supposed to be married or a Sister and priest respectively. We shared with them that for most people it's quite a process with lots of prayer involved, but the answer will come. For us that came when we felt God's blessing for us to be married and He also worked everything out for the marriage and our volunteering trip.

After everyone presented there was a Q & A time when anyone could ask questions to any speaker. The question we and the other married couple received was 'How can you make sure you will stay together forever?' (no divorce). Divorce is starting to become an issue here, as it is everywhere. One thing that we told them was about being 2 + God and that the strand of 3 is a lot harder to break than 2 (especially since one of them is unbreakable already). We talked about how as a couple when you pray together, read the Bible together, and do other Church activities together it keeps both spouses focused on Christ and what's important. That's what keeps marriages together - so has been our experience in our marriage so far and it has also been the advice we've had from many long-married couples who we really respect.

In my opinion we have really benefitted from this advice. This year has been an amazing time for us not only to really make an impact on others, but because we also get to spend a lot of time with each other and much of that time is doing activities focused on Christ. To me it's obvious that our marriage is very healthy and blessed because of this time. I'm especially glad that God gave us this time together at the beginning of our marriage so that we have a strong foundation to build on in the future.

The last opportunity I'll write about was with English Club. We spent a week talking just about faith and one of the days our conversation topic was, "Is Jesus important to you? Why?" We discussed for a long time and I think it was as encouraging for me as it was for them. Each student said at least one very profound thing with a distinctly different perspective - Jesus as a friend, Jesus as a confidant when there is no one else, Jesus making the impossible become possible...We also talked about the difference between going through the motions in your faith only because it's a family thing, and the need to go much deeper into a relationship/friendship with Jesus and to let your daily actions be inspired by that friendship. They said that they want that deeper faith and I believe it. Some of them really understand already, especially some of them who have suffered most. One student's father died this year and she seems to have the deepest faith of all.

During a more recent English Club I shared my faith story with them. It was almost all in Tetum and afterward I realized that I finally have a good grasp on the language and can quickly figure out how to say what I want to. So that was a great revelation, but the better part was that they seemed to understand and react to it. I just prayed that the Holy Spirit would work in their hearts so all these little things will add up to make a real difference in their lives.

After my story and some discussion, I gave them each an English New Testament with a special note for them in the front from Brendan and I. It's great because it's really multitasking: to help them know Jesus more, to help them learn English, and to help them fulfill their life goals (the other week we made Life Goal lists and many of them said they wanted to read the Bible often or daily).

It's really been an amazing experience to work with these students who I see as my younger sisters (and one brother : ) Brendan has had similar experiences with his university classes.

So God has generously given us many formal opportunities as well as countless informal opportunities to share His love here in Timor. Maybe someday we'll know the impact He has made through us. But you don't have to go out of the country to make a difference - remember to keep making an impact right where you are (as many of you are constantly doing)!

K, hope you are all well at home! We can't wait to see you! 1 week and we'll be on our way! Love you and miss you A LOT!

Always,
Rachel and Brendan

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Surprise!

Brendan and I are going to have a baby!!! Finding out was a bit of a process, but since we found out I'm pregnant we've been very excited!

We found out July 15 with a positive pregnancy test at a pharmacy near our house. It was funny because Brendan and I were waiting in the office while the clinician went to use the Indonesian pregnancy test. We expected her to be gone for a few minutes, but she came back after about 20 seconds, sat down, and said one word as she looked up at us... We didn't have any idea what word she said, but she repeated it a few times while pointing to the "positive" check box on her sheet and it became clear we were pregnant! So, after that 10 second delay, we burst into smiles and hugged each other as she started filling out the information for the doctor. She also gave me some advice in Tetum as a young mother with 3 children herself : )

Since that time it's been a whirlwind of telling family, friends, and the Sisters here. We've also met with two docotors to start getting information. Dr. Christiane is a German doctor who married a Timorese man and she is pregnant too! So I know she knows what she's talking about : ) She recently left to give birth in Germany, so before she left I tried to meet with her a lot to get advice (in English).

Brendan and I also met with Dr. Amita, an obstetrician from Nepal who works at the National Hospital here. She's a colorful, lively woman who told us she came to East Timor to help for 6 months and she's been here for almost 4 years now. Timor seems to have that special pull on people. It's obvious that she has a special heart for mothers and helping them ease through pregnancy.

On July 21st, Dr. Amita did our first check up and ultrasound. It was amazing...she expertly twirled the wand around until she found our baby and she pointed out his or her beating heart! Using the computer she was able to determine, based on the size of our baby and the gestational sack, that the baby was 6.5 weeks old at the time! But today our baby is 11.5 weeks old - almost 3 months! And when we get home I'll be 4 months pregnant. The time goes fast, especially with all these new things to think about.

But the ultrasound was really special. The emotions that you feel when you look at that black and white screen and see the pulsing of your baby's heart are difficult to describe. For me, I think the overriding feeling was AWE - awe that there was another life inside me and awe of the God-designed perfectness and complexity of our bodies that allows life to continue. It made me think a lot about grace. I've done nothing that could merit this gift, but it was given all the same, and that is grace.

So since the ultrasound I've been reading up on the do's and don'ts. Brendan had found a book about pregnancy at the school library that was written by an Australian nurse. A line in the book that made me think of the ultrasound said: " Being pregnant and having a baby are the closest things to a miracle that you will ever see." That's how I feel right now : )

I sped through that book and one of our Australian volunteer friends, Therese, bought us a copy of "What To Expect When You're Expecting" while she was visiting home. The book is super-thorough and has been wonderful to read so I'm not so worried about being pregnant in Timor.

But, because we are pregnant, some things have changed and we're starting to figure everything out. The biggest change is that we will be coming home a little early so that we can find jobs and housing soon. We will already have been here for the full school year and we will stay until we see our students graduate. After that we have a few weeks for goodbyes and to finish our side projects and then we will be coming home. We will arrive at the Des Moines airport October 1st around 8 pm.

It's a Thursday night and it would be incredible to see as many of you as possible at the airport! We've missed you A LOT and will be looking forward to transitioning back into life at home with the support of family and friends!

So that's our big news! Please pray for the health of our baby and that we would finish our work here well, and that God would guide our future. Thanks!

Love always,

Rachel and Brendan

P.S. Interesting fact: The Tetum word for pregnant is "isin-rua" literally translated it means "two bodies" : ) Appropriate...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Update

Hello everyone! Just wanted to apologize quickly for not writing much recently. Most of you understand because of our special news that many of you already know: WE'RE PREGNANT!!! It's very exciting, but more on that in the next blog (which is already written, just needs to be typed, etc).

Just to fill you in, lately we've been REALLY busy but when we weren't figuring out final details about when to leave, going to Doctor's appointments, continuing our projects at school, etc., we were:

- Going to a Timorese wedding party (our first)!

- Taking a relaxing weekend trip with other volunteers to Atauro Island (the little island 2 hours from Dili that is part of East Timor)!

- Preparing for and attending the official accredidation of the Canossian university. Brendan worked long and hard to help prepare for it, and it went really well and we're sure that they passed and the school gets to stay open!

- Saying goodbye to other friends who have finished their term of service. Chris and Sali and Dagmara are back in Poland and two of our Australian friends leave in less than 2 weeks. It's been difficult and sad, but at the same time we are preparing to come home ourselves - we will be home on October 1st!

- Preparing to finish school. My 3rd year students at SMA are finished, but we are continuing English Club. They will graduate on August 29th, earlier than expected. Then we have about 3 weeks before we leave to get ready, say goodbye to all of our friends, and finish working out all the details of our homecoming.

I think that's about it. Again, sorry it's been so long. Coming in and spending hours on the internet has been low on the priority list the last few weeks. Depending on how many of the blogs we get put up you may have to enjoy the few quality ones and then have lots of questions for us when we get home : )

Ok, we'll put up a blog about our baby soon : ) So don't get discouraged when there isn't anything new for awhile - just keep checking.

Love you all,
Rach and Brendan

P.S. Check out the b-day blog. Even though it says July 19th it was put up, it was started then and finally finished and put up today. So you can read about how awesome my birthday was : )

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Birthday Extravaganza

(Sorry it has taken us so long to put up another blog, things have been really busy and the computer has been playing tricks on us. There are more blogs to come in the near future!)

On Sunday, June 28th, I was blissfully happy! As you've read, the week before had been great and activity-filled, so naturally my birthday was going to be the climax of all the excitement : ) Brendan had planned everything and told me nothing except that it wouldn't be a day for resting - it was going to be busy and fun, just the way I like it!

So I woke up early, excited like a little kid, and the 1st surprise was a scavenger hunt. Without my knowledge, Brendan had gone to the store and bought some little snacks and things like chocolate milk and nice-smelling hand soap and Tim Tams. Then I had to search the house for them. I was offered 3 hot-cold lifelines (where Brendan would say cold, cool, warm, hot, etc. as I moved farther or closer to the object). I used 2, but only for speed's sake because I was hungry for breakfast : )

After breakfast we relaxed a little until English Mass. Brendan read the 1st reading and I sang in the choir and was asked to carry up the beautiful tropical flowers during the offering that would be placed in front of the altar.

It's interesting here, because instead of only presenting money during the offering, the Timorese give the fruit of the land as well as money - on holidays they offer fresh bananas, coconuts, and live chickens to God. As we offer money, they also offer their very livelihood, but in a way that is quite foreign to us. And it's amazing that they always give something - rarely do I see a Timorese person pass the offering plate without putting something in it, when internationals wouldn't hesitate to pass it on. Often they only give 5, 10, or 25 cents, but that's significant here - the equivalent of a couple of dollars to us. It's ironic that they give so freely here despite having so little, where as at home many people have no qualms about buying an expensive coffee everyday but to give $2 at church every Sunday would be unthinkable. Anyway, it's an interesting fact about Timor that has had an impact on the way I think. But anyway, back to my birthday : )

After Mass, the choir director asked me to stand up and the choir sang to me. I'm pretty sure I turned bright red, but it was a really nice gesture. Then Brendan and I caught up with our volunteer friends who all wished me a happy birthday and apologized that they were incredibly busy and wouldn't be able to join in any of the festivities. I was a little disappointed because I thought we might be able to do something all together, but they all left to start moving to new house and going back to their work in the villages outside of Dili.

Brendan said the two of us were going to go on a picnic after he ran a quick errand, which made me feel better, so he drove us to the beach and stopped. Then he explained he was actually taking me out for lunch (a big treat!) and he led me into a Burmese restaurant, The Beach Cafe, which we had never been to before.


We had only been there for about 2 minutes when all the volunteers who had said they were busy started coming in : ) Therese, Cass, Donna, and Ellie were able to make it! They gave me some very nice Timorese presents and a great birthday party! We were there for over 2 hours sharing and listening to all the crazy stories you get from being a volunteer in a developing country. Always fun/scary/interesting when you get volunteers together : )


After lunch, I found out that Donna, Ellie, Brendan, and I were going to the beach. We drove out to Tasi Tolu beach under the hill with the John Paul II statue overlook. We were going SNORKELING!!! I had heard good things about it from Brendan, but never snorkeled in the ocean before. I was excited to go, but also a little nervous. I think everyone has an unreasonable fear, and mine is death by shark. But logically it was fine - no one has heard of sharks close to Dili and Brendan had been to this spot before with some friends and had no trouble. Tasi Tolu is also a favorite spot for the scuba/snorkeling businesses here, so it has the reputation of being safe. So I prayed that God would have my guardian angel swim beside me just in case : )

We had to spit on our goggles (to keep them from fogging up) and get everything tight in all the right places, but once that was completed and we you're in the water everything else fades away. There's just you and the reef and fish below you.

As we swam farther from shore the land dropped away under us and the coral got nicer and the fish more colorful. In some areas I felt like I was in the movie Finding Nemo with all the brightly colored fish. The coral ranged from a brown to white color and was not as Finding-Nemo-like, but our friend Donna has snorkeled many times and she said it was some of the best coral that she has seen.

But the best part was the fish swimming in and around the coral. There were iridescent blues and purples and oranges and fish covered with multi-colored stripes for spots, each wild and beautiful. Especially exciting was seeing two large, bright purple starfish. It was like seeing fish in the Aquatics part of the Omaha Zoo, except that these fish were in the wild. Somehow that makes it a heck of a lot more exciting. Like the first time we saw a crocodile in the wild here - you have an adrenaline rush and a touch of fear and awe at the same time. It could be compared to the difference between book knowledge and knowledge from experience. We've been getting a lot of the latter here in Timor.

As it got later in the afternoon, the tide started to come in and the waves got bigger. We swam to the biggest waves and snorkeled through (or if they crested right before they got to you under them). Brendan started to teach me how to "duck dive" - when you dive about 3 meters down with your snorkel. The first time I tried, I got a mouthful of delicious salt water, but I'm slowly learning.

After an hour and half flew by, we headed to shore, dried off, and left. When we got home, Brendan generously allowed time for both of us to have a quick bucket shower and rest before the next activity.

Around 6:30, he told me we had a reservation at 7 pm and that I needed to wear nice to really nice clothes. He made it sound like we were going to another restaurant, but when I was ready he drove me out of town towards the school instead. I was surprised when we pulled up at the convent and were met by some of the Sisters, who showed us the way to prayer. Prayer was a great way to finish the day! Besides all the normal prayers, many of the Sisters prayed for me, for Brendan, and for you (our family and friends at home).

After prayer we received even more good news - 3 letters had arrived from America: one from Grandma Jane and Grandpa Bill, one was Brendan's slightly delayed birthday card, and the other contained many letters that friends had written at a "letter-writing party" (smart!). Thanks guys!

We didn't know, but while we were reading the letters the Sisters were working on dinner and a surprise. When we came to help them there was cake set out on the table with decorations and birthday wishes written in the different Timorese languages. They even had some pasta for us for dinner, in addition to the usual rice, vegetables, and a little meat.


Dinner was delicious. After dinner they sang to me and did the customary double-cheek kiss to congratulate me. I cut the cake and we all got a small piece : ) After cake we went over to the boarding house next door, where we had heard that there was another birthday girl.


When Brendan and I came in they clapped and started to sing Happy Birthday (Timorese style) over and over in different languages until all 80 girls had formed a line and given me the double-cheek kiss. They also put a tais on my shoulders and Zhyzhy, a student from English Club gave me a card with dried flowers. The Brendan and I responded by singing the cha-cha-cha version of Happy Birthday and the 10 year old and very shy Fani had to dance when we said cha-cha-cha. It was super-cute!

Finally, after some games with the Sisters and Brendan checking the English of some official documents for the university that were needed the next day, we went home happily exhausted!


But that's not the end! The next day I arrived ready to teach English Club as usual, but Brendan had plotted with them to have a beach party because they wanted to do something for my birthday also!

They had planned everything perfectly - they all made food for the picnic lunch and brought their swim clothes (there aren't "swimsuits" here, people just swim in their clothes) and cameras. After a really nice picnic lunch on the beach, we went swimming. Many of the girls didn't know how to swim so we started to teach them. The biggest problem was that the backfloat is especially scary while the waves are coming in, but once they could do that they learned quickly. our best swimmer went from having trouble floating to working on her front and backstroke. It's surprising, but true - most Timorese we've met don't have a clue how to swim.

Anyway, as is probably clear - my 23rd birthday was definitely one of my best birthdays EVER! If more of my family were here it would have been #1. Special thanks to my incredible husband Brendan, our volunteer friends, the Sisters at Comoro and Sister Sonia, and the English Club students! I love you guys - thanks for making my birthday special!

Always,

Rachel and Brendan

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Birthday Week

The week before my birthday was so packed with fun activities that I was exhausted by the time it got to my real birthday on Sunday : )

The highlights:

Monday for English Club we cut the English practice short and I taught them tae kwon do! Just the white belt exercises - all the basic punches, blocks, and kicks, and the beginner sparring moves. on Friday we had watched a Jackie Chan movie and they seemed interested so on Monday I taught them the beginner stuff : )


Tuesday we pulled off a surprise party for Aurita and Marcia's birthdays. All of our birthdays are in June so we wanted to celebrate together. But Brendan and I told them that we just wanted to have them over to our house for some lunch to practice English. But when were supposed to drive them to our house, we kept on going to Castaway, a nice restaurant on the beachfront. Sister Sonia met us there. Sister Aquelina was supposed to come also, but she was very sick.

So the five of us went into the restaurant and ordered pizza. Aurita had eaten pizza once, but Marcia had never had it (she hadn't even heart of the word "pizza"). So we got cheese, pepperoni, and a chicken one. They tried each type, but the pepperoni was everybody's favorite. So we talked and looked out over the ocean and at pizza until Sr. Sonia pulled out surprise birthday presents for each of us. The clinic girls each a necklace and I got a new pair of socks and $5 pulsa (phone credit) - perfect gifts for a volunteer because most of my socks are super-stretched from all the handwashing and $5 pulsa means lots of texting Sisters and friends and, if I'm lucky, 3 minutes talking to my family in America : )


Tuesday night, after more work, Brendan and I went to our Australian friend Therese's house for a movie night. We had pizza again (2 times in 1 day - Brendan was happy!) and spent most of time talking while the power was out. But eventually we did get to watch a movie before heading home. It was a nice break, and it's always great to be around Therese because she has many great stories from volunteering in the Solomon Islands, Uganda, and now working in East Timor.

Friday, Brendan and I were chaperones for a field trip. The 3rd year students who have an emphasis in science loaded up into the back of 2 big trucks and we drove the 2 hours to the village of Remixio (pronounced ray-miss-ee-oo). We were in the back with the students and they were singing and shouting the whole way, just like high school students at home. On the way they pointed out the Timorese coffee that the country is known for and we saw the house of their Prime Minister.

When we got to the high school in Remixio their student were very shy of the newcomers, but slowly they warmed up to us. We started off with plant identification and the Canossa Biology teacher formed groups from both schools. Brendan was in charge of Group 3 and me, Group 4. Basically we supervised their plant-finding in different areas up in the hills above the school, made sure that the two schools are working together, and that the students didn't go too far or get hurt. My group was lucky - we were given a hill that had a lot of the ferns they were looking for and beatiful views down each side. Eventually we came back and presented the plants and their classification by genus.


Around 1 pm we had a lunch break, and Sr. Domingas's friends invited us for fresh corn and oranges. After lunch the Canossa students presented to the St. Joseph's students how to use a microscope and test blood. I think it was good for the Canossa students to have to explain what they've learned and good for the St. Joseph's students to be taught by peers and well as teachers.

After the lessons there was recreation for about an hour with soccer, basketball, volleyball, and a baseball/cricket game they played with a tennis ball. Brendan and I played volleyball and basketball. Volleyball was fun and relaxed with people from both schools on each team. After that came school vs. school guys soccer and girls basketball. Canossa needed a 5th player so I played basketball, but it was painful. But there's always next time...

video


The trip home was even better than the trip there - the students were especially lively and shouting and singing and dancing and clapping in the back of the truck for 2 hours straight. How any of them had a voice the next day I have no idea! We were surrounded by mists as we came out of the mountains and by the time we got to Dili the moon was bright and the Southern Cross ( a beautiful constellation) was high in the sky, but nothing slowed these kids down. We taught them a chant from Remember the Titans adapted for Timor Leste and they loved it and sang it over and over off and on for the last hour : ) We were starting to regreat teaching them it (just a little) when we got back to school and made our way home.


Saturday our Tetum teacher in Rome, a Timorese Sr. Ana Florinda, came to our house for lunch. She had finished her training in Rome and now will be a Timorese missionary in Indonesia. But while she is working out the longterm visa she has a couple of weeks here to catch up with her family and fill them in on what life is like outside of Timor.


It was great to see her! She's the kind of person life can't get down - always smiling or laughing... She's the kind of person that you hear before you see them : ) We were blessed to have her as our teacher in Rome because she was the first Timorese person we ever met and she was wonderful. So meeting her helped us look forward even more so to the mission.

She shared recent stories from Rome and gave us the updates on the missionary Sisters we met during our formation (many of them have completed their formation and are traveling to the countries all over the world that will be their new home). In return, we told her about how things were going here. She was glad to hear that we were enjoying ourselves and working hard. Before she left, Brendan helped her check some English documents, we took photos together, and she gave me an early birthday present - a box of cookies (practical and delicious)! She is always kind and exceedingly generous. It lifted our spirits to be around her and we hope God will work it out so we can see her again in the future : )

After lunch there was time for a quick rest and then we were off to English Bible Study. It was great as always and afterward Yanni, one of the Bible Study girls, asked us to hangout with her at the beach. So the three of us went to a part of the beachfront she liked that was filled with families cooking up fresh fish and corn on the cob for people walking past. We stopped at her favorite place and ordered pop and grilled corn. They put chilis on the corn so it's hot & spicy. It was good, but I'm not gonna lie, it paled in comparison to Iowa sweetcorn. That's one of the critical summer things we're missing, but for one summer we'll probably survive.

After the corn and conversation we dropped her off at her house before continuing to another Filipino activity. In June there were two activities - a formal dinner/dance for their 111th Independence Day celebration and this Saturday night there was a raffle, dinner, and presentation from the sports fest. Sr. Sonia gave us free tickets to both events as a gift. Thanks Sr. Sonia!


So Sr. Sonia was there with 15 Timorese girls who live at the Balide convent, so we sat by them during the dinner. Dinner was really good, except it was difficult to get used to the Filipino pasta (they like it sweet, which is confusing to our tastebuds). After dinner they raffled off 50 prizes, starting with #50 and between every 5 or so one of the sports fest teams made a presentation. There was singing, dancing, martial arts, and even tininkling. I'm not sure of the spelling, but it's a dance you do with 4 long, bamboo poles and some people click the poles together in rhythm while others dance in the middle of the tic-tac-toe and try not to get caught by the poles. My class did it in grade school - it's one of my favorite memories from music class : )


So the tension increased with each round of prizes. Brendan and I had bought 3 tickets and were hoping to win the mountain bike or another good prize. We didn't have any lucky, but one of the best parts of the night was watching one of the Canossa girls win a DVD player. All the girls were screaming and jumping up and down and were really excited for her. The other highlight was watching the girls do a semi-traditional Timorese dance that one of the girls had choreographed. It was beautiful and set to great music! We could tell they were nervous, but they did a great job and got quite an ovation as they finished!

We didn't stay for the end because it was getting late and I knew Brendan had a busy day planned for my brithday Sunday and if I was tired it wouldn't be good. And it was busy and one of my best birthdays ever! But you'll have to wait for the next blog to find out what happened : )

Hope all is well with you and that summer is going great! Be sure to enjoy that sweetcorn in memory of us : )

Love,

Rachel and Brendan

Monday, July 6, 2009

My Birthday Present!

Dear Friends and Family!


Just a few days ago it was a very special day - my birthday! On Sunday, June 28th, I turned 23! In the past few years I've had some pretty awesome birthdays and this year was definitely top 3. But birthdays are no fun unless you share them, so Brendan and I are going to ask you to return all the expensive gifts that you bought for me ; ) and consider helping the people of East Timor instead!

There are 3 ways that you can help someone - by giving them the 3 T's. The 3 T's are your Time, your Talent, and your Treasure. I'm especially fond of giving Time and Talent in service, but as I get older I realize more and more that money is an important part of the equation. Not much can happen without kind-hearted, generous people providing financial support behind the scenes.

Brendan and I have spent more than six months really digging in and finding out what the biggest needs are. To be completely honest there are many, but for simplicity's sake we have narrowed it down to the top 2 needs we have seen with our own eyes in the places were we work.

Canossa University - the Institute of Professional Development Canossa


Students go to school for 3 years in the Computer Technician or Office Management programs. Brendan teaches English to all of the second year students here and works in the library, preparing the new computer catalog system for use.

The top needs here are:

1.) Scholarships for Students
With food and housing being the top priority, it's difficult for many students and their families to find the money for education. Some of Brendan's students go to school all day, go to work until night, and then study until 2 in the morning. They make big sacrifices, knowing that education is their key for the future. Currently the cost of a college semester is $90 - nothing compared to our college tuition, yet almost unreachable here.


2.) Library Improvements

The IPDC was started in 2004 and this summer the government will come to check the programs and school facilities. If everything is satisfactory the school will receive their accredidation. One thing that must be improved is the school library. For the accreditation the library must have at least 5,000 properly organized books. Brendan, Sister Etalvinia, and Gina have been working hard on the library for the past couple of months inputting extensive information about each book, and they will continue until the inspection in July or August.

Other important parts of this improvement are:

- Obtaining hundreds of more books, especially books about business and computers written in English or Indonesian

- Getting a printer so the students can work on and print their assignment at the computers in the library. It would be great because it is difficult for most students to get to computer here, and all the public ones are riddled with viruses. It's nothing like at home where almost every family has at least one personal computer.

This is great, very concrete project that we can watch continue to develop and show you the changes. It is also a project that has potential to greatly benefit the students in the longterm,
1. By providing a quiet workspace for them onsite so they don't need to spend vital time and money to use public computers and
2. By helping to earn accredidation for their programs. Brendan has already begun the work, as you saw in the most recent blog, but there is still much to do.

*You may be thinking that you have old books that you could send over, but only for our friends and family in Australia would this be realistic. From America, shipping costs would greatly outweight the value of the books. If you send money, we will be able to buy more books (and newer, updated books) much cheaper than you could.

SMA - Canossa Senior High School


The senior high school is where I teach the English Club, practice English with the teachers, and participate in many student activities. It is a great place, always bustling with activity and over 450 students. It has consistently been recognized as one of the best high schools in Dili since it was started after the conflict in 1999. Many of the students can be found winning scholarships, awards, and competitions.

Two practical needs are:

1.)Laboratory for Language (~ $2,300)

Sister Ervinia, the principal would love to transform an old science room into a Lab for Language - a place where students can come to supplement what they learn in the classroom. Living in a small country, they must learn the languages of the surrounding countries. So added to their class load are Indonesian, Portuguese, and English. Imagine having to learn three foreign languages in high school - most high schoolers can barely handle one! We have been blessed to be born in a country where we are taught an international language - these students are not so lucky.

As an English teacher here, I can tell you how helpful a room for language with books, posters, and headsets for listening to tapes and CDs would be. The students really want to learn , but it is difficult to find someone to practice with who will be able to help correct basic pronunciation, grammar, and prepositions. Whenever Brendan and I walk to and from school or around the city, we are always approached by young people hoping to practice their English. This room would be a great resource for motivated students which could give them more opportunities for the future, especially in regards to jobs and university scholarships.

(Some of our students)

2.) Computer Lab Updates

Their computer lab is full of old donated computers still slowly running Microsoft 2000. Updates are badly needed for the computers and programs, especially antivirus protection (you remember the story of our laptop - may it rest in peace).

Healthcare

The School Clinic


The clinic at the school where I volunteer 3 mornings a week, is one of my favorite places to be. But while I have worked there I have seen some big needs that I think could be alleviated by:

1.) Funds for Food

I used to think that there wasn't much hunger in Dili, but now I'm realizing that it's just under the surface. Families that are putting their kids through school and paying rent for a small house may not have enough money for food.

In 1st Aid courses they teach you to ask a person who is dizzy or has passed out if they have eaten anything that day. Here that question is much more pertinent. Many different students come in who are dizzy or have severe headaches from hunger.

Just yesterday, a small girl from the junior high school came in because she was lightheaded. Tears quietly ran down her face from hunger pains as we got her to rest in the bed. They suffer quietly - I can't imagine trying to stay focused in school if you were hungry all the time and had a headache or stomachache because of it.

Another day, a girl from primary school came in because she was sick. When Sister Aquelina prescribed her the medicine and told her to take it three times a day, she burst into tears because she didn't have any food to take it with. And for those of us who have tried to take medicine without food, it's not a pleasant experience because your stomach can feel more sick than before. Also, it doesn't help as much because certain medicines are not absorbed effectively unless taken with food.

What we would love to establish is a fund, maybe $40 a month (it goes a long way here), that would be used to buy fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables and rice that Sister Aquelina could give out at her discretion to the children of poorer families when they come to the clinic so they would have food to take with their medicine or to ease hunger-related conditions.

2.) Funds for Medicine

We've told you some stories about helping to buy more expensive medicine necessary for more extreme conditions. It would be great to keep that up so that Sister Aquelina would be able to prescribe medicine that she knows a person needs instead of giving paracetamol (like Advil/Tylenol) and multivitamins because they're cheap. A lot of times this is all students need for a fever or cough or cold, but when there is something chronic or more serious I think that there should be a small amount of money monthly to have that option.

Los Palos Mobile Clinic

There are many needs in Dili but we can't forget the rest of the country, where many things are even more in need of development. One of the medical needs that I have heard about is the Los Palos Mobile Health Clinic. Los Palos is a mid-sized city on the eastern coast of the island. The Canossian Sister recently ran a mobile health clinic for the rural areas around Los Palos, ensuring especially that children and women had access to better medical care. It isn't like Dili or Baucau, which both have a decent hospital; in the small coastal villages mobile healthcare might be the only care the people receive. It is more than for convenience, it could save lives.

The mobile health clinic has been discontinued the past few years for lack of funding. It cost $8,000 a year for all the transportation, medicine, and maintenance costs. But the Sisters are patient - they pray and trust that if God wants the mobile clinic up and running the funding will come.


Making Your Decision

These are the needs that we have seen. Brendan and I are here to support the Timorese in their faith, to enhance their Christian education system, and to provide health resources are not readily available. Alone we can do little, but when good people get together we can make a significant difference!

If you are considering giving some money to these projects, there are some others things you should know:

*#1 Any financial support is appreciated!!! We realize most people could only afford to offer $20 or $50 at most, but even those could be significant here. $50 might provide food and medicine for a month at the clinic, or help a university student pay for a semester of college. Be assured that your dollar can go a long way here: Brendan and I live comfortably on about $120 each for the month, although are housing is provided free by the Canossian Sisters. Still, I bet you wish your cost of living was that low!

*The currency in East Timor is the US $ so you don't have to worry about any international exchange rates (unless you are Australian and then I believe it would currently be in your favor).

*Every donation you send will be used and used well! If you haven't already - go back and read the June blog "Side Projects". With the donation money we received before we left we have kept careful track of what we have done with it so every penny is used for the benefit of the Timorese.

And the Sisters are the same! Recently the IPDC university received a grant for $35,000. It was used to get internet for their computer lab, hire more teachers, and create two business rooms for practical office lessons for both programs. Brendan and I happened to be at school when East Timor's Minister of Education dropped by to check on the status of the funds. We got to meet him and he told us how impressed he was by the Sisters "transparency" - they they had used all the money to make significant, visible changes.
We were told that sometimes the Minister of Education will check on a school which was given a grant only to find that no changes have been made and that the money has vanished. So he appreciated the Sister's hard work and honesty.

With the Sisters and us here, you don't have to worry about money being used improperly. You will know that your donation is being used well and we will update you on the progress of the projects with stories and pictures.

How To Donate

1.) Telegraphic Transfer (Western Union)


This is the most realistic and quick way to transfer the money, especially smaller donations. Brendan and my parents have agreed to act as contacts for us, so if you would like to make a donation you can give or send them your donations and they will collect them and transfer them to the Canossa Foundation-Dili. This is the best and easiest way because there is only a short delay and minor service fee. We are not going to put our parents' information on the internet, so if you happen to not have it already, e-mail us at rdowney727@gmail.com and we will get you the necessary information.

Once again, this is best way, especially for smaller donations because our contacts can pool them and send them at once so it is less hassle for you and for us here. Please make sure you also give your name and contact info or e-mail so we can write you a thank you and if you have a specific project you would like to support, include that also.

2.) Check

For Australia: Make the check out to "Canossa Foundation Dili" and send it to:

Canossa Foundation - Dili
P.O.Box 23 Dili, Timor Leste

For America: Checks are very unrealistic in this case because they can take over a month to get to East Timor. Also, from past experience of people here, American banks charge a $75 processing fee to get the money here.

3.) Tax - Deductible

If you are interested in making a larger donation and would like it to be tax-deductible you must donate to the Canossian Sisters within your country. Our Dili project proposals will be passed on to the Head Council of the Canossian Sisters who will ok them and send the money to Timor Leste.

The process will take a little time, so if you are interested in this, please e-mail us as soon as possible so we will know the projects you want to support and the amount of your donation so we can get more information to you and start the tax-deductible process.


So please pray and consider helping the people of East Timor whom we serve (for their benefit, your benefit, and for my birthday!). There are many beautiful people here who are in desperate need of better education, better healthcare, and even food and shelter. I don't think I can say this enough: ANYTHING you can do to help is appreciated! And every cent you send will be used, as Magdalene of Canossa said, to make Jesus known so that He will be loved.


Always,

Rachel and Brendan

P.S. If you have any questions please e-mail us at rdowney727@gmail.com. Thanks!!!