Youth Ambassador Clea in East Timor. Photo by Lucy Aulich, World Vision
Earlier this year, I boarded a flight to East-Timor after a 40 hour long transit from India. In great contrast, East Timor is a mere 45 minute flight from Australia. I remember on the brief flight home thinking of the significance of these 45 minutes. 45 minutes to me is driving to Uni in bad traffic. 45 minutes to me is a game of touch football. And it is 45 minutes that decides whether or not a person has access to fresh water, shelter, education and health care. We are in such close proximity yet face opposite issues: an obesity epidemic stemming from a lifestyle of excess, starkly juxtaposed with widespread poverty. There is poverty right on our doorstep.
I left for East Timor being particularly interested in working to provide accessible, quality healthcare to individuals, communities and a connected global population. One of the most memorable days of the trip was visiting a health post. Located half way up a mountain with its balcony lined with women and children, it overlooked a valley of rice paddies. I was fortunate enough to sit in on a consultation between a woman who was seven months’ pregnant and a midwife who visited the health post only once a month.
This woman had already had seven children and was severely malnourished. She also didn’t know her age as her records had been destroyed during the Indonesian occupation. She was presumed to be in her mid 40s, and this in combination with the fact it was her eighth pregnancy greatly increased the risk of birthing complications. The midwife began listing some potential complications and it was frightening to think of what happens in the weeks when the midwife is absent.
It was the lady we met next who was the answer. World Vision volunteer Miranda truly ensures the success of this health post. Every week she walks to visit every pregnant mother or young family in her village for malnutrition checks and support. Further, she runs a weekly Mother’s Club focusing on preventative health and education. Proudly, she walks irrespective of the weather. On the particular day we were fortunate enough to walk with Miranda it was raining, making for a very muddy walk. Miranda’s dedication to her community is unwavering. Extraordinarily, since World Vision has worked with the health post infant mortality has dropped by 40%.
We also visited a World Vision Water Sanitation and Hygiene program. Incredibly, in this particular area under the program, 40 taps were being constructed. One tap provides water to five families and it was easy to see the huge benefits this access would bring.
Previously, these families had to walk for hours each day for their water. From this lack of access to water flowed the severe consequences of the parents not working and children not attending school. Thus there was often little to no food, no income and for the children no education. It was a real, tangible example of the trapping effect of poverty.
The important thing about this project was its sustainability – like all World Vision projects.
In this village we were told that there had already been taps built five years ago by professional tradesmen. However they had broken only a few weeks after construction and no locals knew how to fix them. As a result once again the community members had to walk for hours each day to an open source for their water. What gives the WASH program long-term viability is the fact that the World Vision staff train community members to build, maintain and repair the taps. Just like the saying, ‘give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime’, World Vision ensures projects are multifaceted and sustainable in approach and that the change is permanent not temporary.
I have been exposed to poverty in its raw, uncensored, overwhelming and all consuming form: here in Australia when I travelled to Far North Queensland to the tip of Cape York where I lived in a remote Indigenous community; when I was in India backpacking and on my Immersion trip to East Timor. But never have I experienced it.
What primarily determined this was that I was lucky enough to be born in Australia. This realisation led to one of the toughest moments of the trip. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to stay overnight with a women called Mana Elda in her home, a traditional Timorese hut. When we were serving dinner of rice and cassava leaves, her eyes fell to the floor as she said, “I’m sorry I can’t give you more, I’m sorry I have no meat or vegetables, this is all I have”. It was horrible – we all felt ashamed and guilty that because we were from Australia, we were perceived as needing more.
Today, society continues to try and define people by their nationality, their socio-economic standing, religion, culture or whatever it may be – but we are all equal. It is this that should transcend all else. Yet it doesn’t. We are all equals, yet such inequality exists in our world
The quote ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ aptly describes how many Australians view of poverty. Although we may not see poverty and its devastating consequences in our day-to-day lives, there are billions of people around the world who do. I cannot think of any excuse that justifies inaction. Inaction encourages inequality and it hinders change.
We live in a world were justice is denied, poverty is enforced and ignorance prevails. Let us not deny justice, let us work to alleviate poverty. Let us not live comfortably within the borders of our own innocent worlds.
As Malala Yousafzai said, “when the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
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