Sunday, December 7, 2014

Big heart, Big God

For some strange reason (lets blame technology) one of the great stories of this year hasn’t yet been told.  Back in July, we had a visit by a team from the Palmerston Baptist Church.  The trip was a mix of evangelism and practical work.  The main aim was to work with the local churches in Los Palos to run a series of night programs in the town. 


Great men (in brown skin) who are ready to work together for God’s glory.  This work was facilitated by the ever faithful Pastor Samuel (in red) together with a number of local churches including the Independent Protestant Church (IPTL), Baptist, Nazarene and Assemblies of God (AoG). 


Ok, starting out was a bit slow, but who can resist this sweet dynamic duo below doing a boogie to one of the songs.



The young people were a real winner with the locals.DSC00867

As word got around that the group was in town the excitement began to build.  I really appreciated the flexibility of the group and being open to encourage the locals to get in on the action.  Pretty soon we found some great talent especially in a local Baptist church.


Some of the girls from the local Baptist church making fast friends.


The gathering each night grew with fun and games from the youth and great, simple preaching from Doug and Janelle.







Each morning the team did some hard yakka tiling the youth house under the steady eye of Graham out the back of the Nazarene Church.  Its great to see this accommodation facility now being used by young people needing a place to stay.


Look ma, no tiles!


Slabs don't come neat and level in this country, the first job is chiselling off lumps and bumps.


This is actually very hard work, what a sensational effort !DSC00994

There seems to be no easy way to clean off the cement.


Look, ma, tiles!!!  Notice also the cupboard and lining in the study which included re-doing some electrical.


Yes, just occasionally I get back on the tools – here doing a spot of electrical.


Is there anything these guys cant do!?!DSC00988DSC00996DSC01000

Perhaps one of the forgotten parts of a building project is the furnishings.  These cupboards will be used by the youth for their clothes and study materials.DSC00951


After the hard work is done, there’s just a little time for R & R.  The Great Wall gets a little test on the road to Tutuala (ok, it couldn’t make it all the way to Jaco but it had some fun.)

Jaco is on the eastern tip of Timor Leste with beautiful beaches and reefs.





Many thanks to these noble souls who took the plunge to work alongside the folks in Timor.

We’ve got more projects coming up in 2015 – we could do with all sorts of tradies but most of all people with a big heart ready to be moved by a big God.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

End of the Dry

We are coming to the end of the dry season in Timor-Leste. That is a busy time for people working in the field of agriculture. Seed for distribution needs to be packaged up, new seed needs to get into the hands of the right farmers, and new plans are made to improve productivity. I’ve recently looked back over the last three years of working with my friend Lino on improving his corn yield. The good news is that every year his yield has gone up. We estimate that in the 2010/11 season he harvested around 0.8 t/ha (tonnes per hectare). Then in 2011/12 he harvested 1 t/ha. In 2012/13 this went up by 30% to 1.3 t/ha. Last year, he was very happy with his harvest of 2 t/ha. He’s been trying a number of new things on his farm such as improved seed from Seeds of Life, increasing organic matter with a bean vine, planting the corn closer and using a little urea. Its hard to say which technique has led to the most increases in yield and also how much the weather has had an impact. We hope the improvements we’ve introduced have made a real difference but in the end I am thankful to God – it is God who makes things grow. As well as increasing the yield we are working on decreasing his labour. A great story from this is the corn shellers which take the kernels off the corn. I’ve recently been asked to order a 40ft container of these and some corn grinders to distribute to farmers (funded by IFAD). This brings the total to almost 6000 shellers – which means 6000 households that can shell the corn more easily! If you’ve tried to do this job you’d understand how excited we are.
This season Lino is ready to make some big changes. Two of his big challenges are all the weeds and the white grubs that seem to be eating the roots of his corn. Unfortunately, I am turning to chemicals to try to resolve this problem – roundup and furadan. I’ll be working with him to limit the impact of these chemicals to just the weeds and those who want to eat the corn but I can’t help feeling that my clean, green soul is slowly ebbing away. My rational head says that using roundup may result in less ploughing which means you trade diesel fuel for roundup. The careful use of the toxic furadan might offset the heavy use of chemicals on imported foods since there is higher local production. I think your head can go round and round on this stuff. In the end we’ll just try to be as careful as possible and hope that the chemicals are a temporary arrangement. We’ll also have a crack at a fancy seed planter and increasing the plant density which is still quite low at 2.2 plants per square metre. He’ll be trying about 1 quarter of his field with this new technique and we’ll get the results by around April next year.
A very cool little story: my neighbour Anen has finally repaid his home loan for his three units. This is a great achievement after 4 years of work to build then rent and manage three units for foreigners. Like a previous neighbour, Amena, Anen also got the opportunity to build a fourth investment house during this time as a spin-off from the first 3. He has demonstrated a beautiful principal that a poor person, given the opportunity of finances and guidance, can completely change his future prospects. He has been very faithful in making his repayments. During this time he’s also invested his earnings (he always collected half the rent) in renovating and expanding his own house, taking on teenage student borders, putting his children into good schools, improving his neighbour’s house who is a widow and helping his extended family in the mountains. The ripple effects from this one family can only be known by the good Lord. We’ll be discussing a new project for him next year.
Personally, I’m feeling a little dry so I hope that soon the dry season will end for me too.
Israel snorkelling (2000 x 1500)
Happy fish.

nervous fish (2000 x 1500)
Nervous fish.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Trip to Ulmera

Sometimes we find it hard to know what to do on a weekend.  Its not like we’re stuck for things to do but sometimes we look for an opportunity just to take a break.  This weekend we settled on a little drive to the mountains to a place called Ulmera.  You head west from Dili along the usual scenic coast road, then head up into the mountains.  At some seemingly random point hang a right and you’re off into the bush with a little 4WD touring – in the dry that is.  In the wet it would be more serious.  We come to a sweet little cluster of houses related to our neighbours.  We sat and chatted and exchanged the usual cup of Timor coffee for a bunch of goodies from our standard kit:  clothes & things donated from Oz, a couple of cook stoves, a few Bibles.  We also checked out the water source which is the usual hard luck story of a little spring way down in a gully with an arduous hike to carry it up to the house.  For entertainment, I ask why the heck is the water downhill and the houses uphill?  Why not build the houses below the spring – it would be a whole lot easier to sort out their water.  At least two NGOs have looked at it and walked away.  We might have crack at it.  I haven’t done a water system in so long I’m beginning to go through withdrawals.
Xakira surveys the scene at Ulmera, climbing the ladder to a mango tree.
Folks sit at the spiritual house on the left, the small chapel on the right and the spirit post front centre surrounded by rocks:  gotta keep all bases covered.
An unfortunate possum with an uncertain future tied up around his hips at a local house
Some other pics…
MAF continues to save lives in more ways than one – 44 gallon drums will save many tonnes of farmer’s corn.  How many can you fit on one ute?
Cynthia and Emmy packing 100 hygiene packs for women – made by Bele Kria, funded by Rotary for Bairo Pite Clinic.
Joseph gets 4 laptops for training uni students.  Thanks to the kind folks from the Clarence for arranging this.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A mind like mine

Still plugging away out here in Timor-Leste.  Things seem a bit frantic in my mind as we get ready for the wet season.  Farmers depend on the rainy season to grow their staple crops.  The general plan is to grow as much food as you need for the year in one crop.  So they dig up an acre or so of land and plant their corn.  Or the flood a field for rice a bit later on.  Many farmers only get one shot at this.  And we only get one shot at helping them to improve techniques and try new ideas.  In Seeds of Life, I’ve been organising 100,000 Maringa tree seeds for seed packs that will go out to the groups that Seeds of Life work with.  Its just  a small part of our work this year but it ticks a nice greeny box inside of me.  There’s also all the velvet bean seed to prepare for growing mulch on the fields, a 40ft container of corn shellers and grinders to order and the weather stations need to be calibrated before the rain comes.
Cynthia has found the inspiration (from Lord knows where?!) to plan a serious expansion of Bele Kria.  The last few months have seen the girls employ extra women to fill women’s sanitary pad orders for distribution through NGOs.
The water filter thing is gaining momentum.  But since yours truly is so stupidly busy I’ve palmed this little baby off to Serenity as a small business.  So she’s busting out her wallet to pay for buckets, filters, taps and the labour to make them and then managing sales and distribution.  She manages this with an excel spread sheet to show income, expenditure and wot-not.  She’s also communicating with China to negotiate the import of supplies.  So it seems it did not take long for her dad to corrupt her innocent childhood existence and thrust her into the adult struggle for survival.  But I think she’ll learn from it, turn a profit and deliver affordable drinking water into Timorese households.  Not bad a for a cute 14yo.
Thinking of a little forestry venture in my lack of spare time.
Bought a bunch more new testaments which are going out like hot cakes (including another order to Ireland).
Got 10 laptops sent out to us from Graham and Lynelle.
Lots of cool folks have visited us recently – we love all you visitors (more or less).
Took a sweet little group of Campus Crusaders out to Atauro.  They saw dolphins and whales for the first time in real life and mainly had a rest from their hard work of telling others about Jesus at the unis around Dili.  While bumming along the ocean surface for the few hours there and back I began to dream up a bigger boat – imagine a lightweight double hull structure with props mounted on drop-down hydrofoils and powered by air-pressure from air tanks filled using solar power. 
Yes, the salt spray does things to a mind like mine.  You should try it one day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In the ruts of life

2014-06-05 18.30.27
So it appears we might be in a rut of doing the same old, same old.  You know the usual hoohaa of life here in Timor Leste – bumpy roads, getting sick, giving a bit, lots of chocolate coloured skin and so forth.  The good news is that things are relatively quiet here.  Bele Kria has undergone an amazing business turn-around.  Just when Cynthia is about to give up, the women hold on and want to keep working.  There’s a re-shuffle in operation and for some strange reason some big orders come in for making sanitary pads which was Cynthia’s original driving passion for starting the group.  Red Cross have ordered 1800 pads and 400 bags.  CARE has also ordered 500 pads.  This has resulted in doubling staff numbers over the last couple of months.  There just seems to be increased awareness of this issue in general in Timor Leste.  We hope that this continues, not just for the sake of the small business but, perhaps more importantly, the women who benefit from this product.
2014-05-07 16.31.34
Another cool outcome has been the arrival of 1600 maize shellers and 600 corn grinders.  This has been the result of 2 years of research and work on resolving issues around labour for farming families.  It started with getting my mate in Los Palos to write down every day about labour related to corn production.  We identified the area of getting the kernels off the cob as the next big issue (after improved seed, soil fertility, storage and fencing).  Thanks to support from Seeds of Life, we could order in a full container load of these hand cranked little beauties.  This little project really got absorbed into SoL and another project involved in supplying drums for corn storage (IFAD).  I’m toying with the idea of importing barbed wire and chicken wire along with more grinders buts its a tiring process.
I’ve finished a short course with 5-6 students teaching the Old Testament.  Some work has started on informally translating portions of the Old Testament.  Exodus 20, Numbers 13 and Jonah have been translated and are at various stages of draft checking.  The usual dribble of donated goods, clothes, laptops, scriptures and money leak out of our house. 
I got to go to Malaysia on a surprise invite to discuss historical weather data in Timor-Leste.  This was important to strengthen links between meteorology in TL with Met Services in other Sth East Asian countries.  Unfortunately, a country boy from Oz does not fit so well in the shopping mecca of Kuala Lumpur.
2014-05-29 10.24.492014-05-29 10.25.46
Inside Petronis Tower, KL.  Didn’t buy any make-up here but did manage a little conversation with security about taking video footage.
Malaysia is strongly Muslim which was an eye-opener for me, here’s a scene at Mc Donald’s.2014-05-29 13.18.49
On the subject of shopping, the kids were delighted to find a new brand of ice-cream in Dili – choc mint flavoured “Dung-Dung” ice cream.
2014-05-24 15.10.24
We’ve been blessed with the visit of Samuel’s mum who came to stay with us.  We took her on a journey up into the mountains to check on a couple of weather stations and replace a data logger in one.  The road got a little rough with very deep ruts and the usual mud flinging. 
Serenity’s pretty keen to learn to drive.  Unfortunately, a recent sortie took us into un-tracked river.  Being the man, I got back in the driver’s seat to get the car back on track.  Instead, I got the Great Wall fully stuck in silty mud – after 5 hours of effort a mate pulled us out with a winch (only after pulling out a land cruiser that also got stuck trying to rescue us) …ooops

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

When Tim Came to TL

We’ve just had the priveledge of meeting Tim.  He cam to visit some friends but made the fatal mistake of asking if there was anything he could do to help.  “What are your skills?” I ask. “Carpenter,” he says.  Beaudy, I think to myself.  “Know any languages?” I ask. “Indonesian,” he says.  Double beaudy. This guy’s not going to get off lightly.
Suddenly, Samuel goes into turbo mode – why the heck did this guy not give me forewarning?! 
Ok, to the story at hand.  We’ve been wanting for a carpenter to come over for a week and move the youth centre forward and so I sent Tim off with my tool box and the ute with a couple of friends to Los Palos.  He was able to give them a boost with electrical, hand railing, doors and windows.  I am very thankful.  Hopefully a few mates from Darwin will be here soon to almost knock the job off.
Tim and a collection of friends from Kenya and TL – try to figure out who’s who.
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Tim got to show the guys in Los Palos how to do a variety of jobs.  Great job, mate!
DSCN0328 DSCN0329

Uli and the girls holding the fort at Los Palos while Pastor Samuel is in Dili.

Its harvest time now.  Here one of the young guys at Los Palos is checking out a new device for getting all the corn kernels off the cob ready for drying and storage in drums.  More on this job later.
As a reward, I took Tim out to my favourite destination in Atauro – you have to have a little courage to hop in a small boat and cross the sea.  But the rewards were awesome.  We got to see the usual pod of dolphins – I’ll have to name them soon (except there’s so many – you can be Bob & Bob & Bod, and you guys could be Duncan & Duncan & Duncan – sorry, back to the story)  Also got to swim with some pygmy whales I think.  It was some first filming with my new GoPro birthday pressy – thats right folks, you all get to see what I see now.  Enjoy the movie.
DSCN0358 DSCN0359
Ok, so life’s not entirely without its mishaps.  Perhaps we should have checked our motor before embarking on the voyage.
Atekru is a great village.  This time we were taken with the beautiful hedges of flowers.  I filmed a bit of diving through some tunnels.  Also spent some time following a local mate, Tobias, spear fishing – I like to think of it as underwater hunting, he hides, waits, stalks all under water.
DSCN0368 There’s heaps of mammals in this sea.
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We walked from Maker to Atekru.  Tim inspects a goat coral.  The flower hedges in Atekru touched our hearts.
Atekru is a great village.  This time we were taken with the beautiful hedges of flowers.  I filmed a bit of diving through some tunnels.  Also spent some time following a local mate, Tobias, spear fishing – I like to think of it as underwater hunting, he hides, waits, stalks all under water.
 DSCN0386 DSCN0388
Local girls preparing beans from their harvest ready to store for the dry season.
Emmy’s very cool hut where we stayed.
Atekru is a great village.  This time we were taken with the beautiful hedges of flowers.  I filmed a bit of diving through some tunnels.  Also spent some time following a local mate, Tobias, spear fishing – I like to think of it as underwater hunting, he hides, waits, stalks all under water.