Published on 23rd October 2015
Finding stories to write in Timor-Leste was the simple part of his volunteer assignment, says New Zealander Pat Martin. The big challenge was showing his Timorese workmates how to write them.
A communications and advocacy adviser, Pat arrived in Timor-Leste in April 2013 with two aims. The first was to lift the level of communications of the humanitarian agency World Vision, where he had volunteered through Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) to work for two years. The second was to pass on his communications’ skills to his Timorese workmates.
“World Vision carries out some great development work so profiling projects, in print and online, was straightforward,” he says. “The second part, though, was a lot tougher.”
Of World Vision’s 200 staff, around 95 percent are Timorese. Over 30 languages are spoken throughout Timor and each staff member often spoke four or five. But English, which is World Vision’s global tongue, rarely ranked in their top three.
Pat was new to the world of aid and development. For the first six months he concentrated on learning about the country, getting to know his workmates and producing stories and publications to demonstrate what good communications might look like.
Timor-Leste, independent only since 2002, is a strongly oral culture. Several newspapers are printed in the capital Dili but none in the countryside where 80 percent of people live. Few books are published in the national language, Tetun, or in any local tongue.
“Timorese are great story tellers but they have no history of writing down their stories.”
As his assignment wore on Pat began running workshops with Amelia Xavier, the Timorese communications adviser he was mentoring. A talented young mother-of-two, she had never received any communications training. Pat worked with her on story writing and photography modules they could present in English and Tetun.
“Amelia and I then ran the trainings together. That meant she was learning as much as she was teaching.”
Story writing, photography, video making and other communications’ skills are part of a bigger context, he says.
“We explained that if they learnt how to write a story about a health or education project they could use those skills to write the story of their village, or their family or grandparents. Ultimately they can tell the story of Timor-Leste.”