The Small Steps team arrived in two parts for this project; myself straight from the projects in Cambodia and from Australia volunteer, Jen and photographer Tom bringing more aid from the Australian clothing drive. Jen managed to put together a clothing drive in just three weeks, not only getting family and friends to donate but some companies as well, including CK Children’s Clothing, Fussy Feet Shoes and Kmart. Thank you, once again Australia!
Thanks to the help of Brent Fairheart we secured flights for our Australian team and their aid on a cargo plane for free with his company Toll.
Toll generously provided us with a van and fuel, cutting our delivery costs to nil! We were also given free accommodation, and English and Canadian volunteers in Timor gave us local knowledge. But we arrived in Timor the week before the elections so tensions were running high.
Our first port of call was the Tibar Dump, on the outskirts of the island’s capital, Dili. There were many makeshift huts on the dump, mostly to provide shade in the daytime, but also homes for a couple of families. These indicated that quite a lot of people were scavenging on the dump. On our second and third visits we noticed increasing numbers of people and children, from toddlers to 14 year-olds.
We did the first distribution in the late afternoon, starting with clothes, which is easier than shoes, to see how the community reacted to the aid.Over 120 children came to the clothing distribution, and about the same number of adults. We only provided mums and pregnant women with clothes for their children and babies. Things went really well, everyone queued up and we got the smallest children to go first, but as night fell the atmosphere changed. Children and gangs of teenage boys kept queuing up. We explained that we were distributing to young children and babies first, but the atmosphere became tense and teenage boys disruptive, pushing past the very small children and grabbing things from our van, even though we had nothing to fit them, only had tiny shoes and clothes.
We closed the van, everyone gathered round, and we explained that we were going to distribute shoes to the youngest first, but not to the older children, if they continued stealing.
The next day we returned with all the shoes. Again there were over 120 children plus crowds of adults. Fortunately owners of the house next door to the dump allowed us to do the distribution in their garden, and helped set us up with water, bowls and soap outside and little benches so all the children could wash their feet before putting on their new shoes.
We tried to keep the distribution calm by getting all the children to sit down calmly and then choosing those sitting nicely in groups of 10 to go first, encouraging good behaviour with going first rather than snatching and force.
Initially this worked well, but after about an hour, increasing numbers of teenage boys and adults pushed through the gate and we were absolutely swamped. We were unable to protect the aid, clean the children’s feet and distribute at the same time. We gave them a last warning, saying that we would not return if they continued to disrupt our distribution to the small children, but it did not work. So for the first time in a small steps project distribution we aborted our mission.
We decided that it was becoming very hostile and dangerous but did not want the teenagers’ behaviour to prevent us from helping the younger children, and so we managed to get the remaining aid from the truck into the house and leave it with the mums, to distribute to them when we had gone and things had calmed down.
As we began packing up lots of people started moving towards the van and it was clear that we were massively outnumbered, out of our area and getting dark in a very remote place so we decided to leave!
On the positive side we gave out new clothes and underwear and shoes to over 126 children between the ages of 1 and 14.
However, Timor Leste is a difficult place where the people have had a very hard time through war, poverty and politics and though we felt unable to continue working directly on the dump, we managed to find 4 other projects who were working with scavengers, victims of trafficking and neglected children, and because we have two small steps volunteers, Kim and Ruth, based in Timor we were able to grant them the funds to be able to provide all of those children with shoes, aid and school supplies. This means we will be able to continue to help over 500 more of the poorest children in Timor but in much smaller distributions spread out over a few months to avoid any more riots!
A huge thank you to Nick, Brent, Chris, Kim and Ruth, Jen and Tom and to all the amazing people we met who made us so welcome and helped in every way they could and continue to help the children of Timor Leste.