East Timor – “I learned more than I gave”

19 June 2017

(ANS – Fatumaca) – “The time in East Timor has been so extraordinary to me that I can hardly put it in only a few words”. This words come from Simon Mühlbauer, a German Don Bosco Volunteer 19 years old, graduated from German High school with the Abitur (Matric) and ready to start university next September. Here he share his knowledge, experience and life as a volunteer in Fatumaca, East Timor.

Why did you choose volunteering?

In Germany I attended a Don Bosco school and every year we had a day of social work projects. Every grade had a different schedule on this day and the 11th grade stayed in school, in order to have a seminar about the possibility of social work in the future. There were several organizations presenting their programs, one of them was Don Bosco Volunteers. I listened to their presentation and knew right away, that I wanted to do a voluntary service. Why is actually something, that would today answer differently than one year ago. I applied because I did not want to continue my academic way in life, without at least trying to do something good. I thought teaching English is something I can do and so I wanted to do it.

After almost one year here I have learned much more than I could have ever taught. Probably the best way to sum it up is that I applied to share: knowledge, experiences and life.

Well, I made my application and sent in all the documents, almost one year before the applications deadline. I got accepted and during 3 preparation seminars I never doubted my decision. We heard a lot about the experiences of other/ former volunteers, about Don Bosco and of course health care etc.

How do you feel in Fatumaca?

After more than 8 months here, I feel like being at home. The Fatumaca community is like a big family, on whose support you can always rely. As all volunteers, especially for the first ones in a community, the biggest task always is to find the right place. We are no Salesian priests or brothers, nor are we official teachers. Finding the tasks you can and are allowed to do usually needs some time, but here it never was a questions. I came and could start teaching right away, whenever a teacher did not come or the students had a free spot in their schedule. The afternoons in the first months I spend working with the novices outside.

In the second part of the school year I was fully integrated in the schedule of the school, so I had more classes and also organized on my own English courses for the primary and junior high school, so that my afternoons were full. The community always had opportunities, where I could assist and when I had an idea on my own, they supported it.

What did you learned from the boys and girls here?

It's a never ending list. They taught me Tetum, for me a completely new language. Work outside on the field or with the animals and being a teacher, also something I learned by doing, was all only possible because they supported and helped me.

I definitely learned to be more spontaneous. Coming from Germany I grew up in a very structured culture. Everything had to be planned and every plan had to work out exactly as it was planned. Now I just do things, without much planning, which is actually something I really like about Timorese people. You do things and find people, who help you doing it. Helping complete strangers is something you can rarely find, but here it is normal to help each other, share your meal or give somebody a ride along the road.

Possible to imagine Timorese volunteers?

It is actually funny that you mention this. In January I was on a seminar from our organization together with some of the other volunteers in Asia. We also talked about something like a reverse program, where not Germans are send to countries in Asia, Africa or South America, but where people from these countries are send to Germany and live in the Salesian communities. Many volunteers felt their service to be unjustified. We have the opportunity to come to Timor for one year and work here, while for many Timorese a visit to Germany is a dream, that is hard to be realized, especially in that young age.

In my opinion there should be more of these reverse programs. As I said, more than teaching I have been learning during my voluntary service and learning is something, we all need to do, regardless whether you are German or Timorese. During a voluntary service you learn a new language, you learn something about a new culture, you share experiences and together with Don Bosco you learn that you find friends and family in Don Bosco all over the world.

Source: AustraLasia


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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