Every year, John Paul College, in Frankston, Victoria, gives approximately 12 students the opportunity to travel to Timor-Leste.
The purpose of our immersion is to create connections with the Timorese people and to learn how our faith connects us to people who live such different lives. I was fortunate enough to be one of the students to go on this immersion, and the experience was nothing short of amazing!
We travelled to the rural village of Laga, a beautiful community which welcomed us with open arms. We were woken up each morning by church bells and ended each day in reflection, spending time with our entire group gathered. There is no doubt that this pattern made a big difference to our collective mindfulness throughout the trip and bound us all closer together.
The unique architecture was a stunning sight to see for many of the immersion particpants!
The kindness of the Timorese astounded us; they gave us such warm welcomes as they treated us like we were family, despite obviously being total strangers. Moments like these taught us that God unites us from every corner of the globe, and we all share love even through a language barrier. A Salesian priest, Fr Rui was our guide throughout our entire immersion trip. He played a big role in making us feel at home in Laga, and we learned so much from him.
During the trip, we visited many schools and orphanages, where we played games with the children and sometimes helped with English classes in high schools. We were also on hand bright and early at 6am on one Sunday to assist in getting everyone at the orphanage ready for mass.
In this game of "Fingerpie" the goal is (on the count of three) to catch the person next you's finger, whilst also ensuring that you're finger does not get caught! Hilarity always ensues!
We learnt how differently they bathe compared to our homes back in Australia; they used scoops of water to splash water over them. After this, we assisted in braiding the young people’s hair; they were very excited by this and lined up one-by-one to eagerly await their turn!
It was a very special experience, especially when the nun overseeing everything informed us that we were the first school to participate in this way. It was experiences such as these that created such deep connections with the people of Timor and taught us so much about their culture and ourselves.
My favourite activities during the trip were any time we were all in a big circle with the children, learning songs in Tetum (the local language) and teaching them songs in English, creating a great atmosphere of joy and laughter for all.
We all loved a song called ‘pipoca’, which means popcorn, and the matching dance was just as fun as you’d expect; participants would jump around like popping popcorn pieces! We loved it so much that even now, back in Australia those on our immersion trip have continued singing the song at school. Naturally, it does not make sense to anyone else who sees it but we do it anyway, because it brings back all the great memories of dancing in circles with the Timorese.
Father Rui took us to a beautiful waterfall, which involved quite a hike to reach. I don’t think any of us expected the walk to the waterfall to be so risky. There was a running, people-made stream on our right, and a lovely drop on our left, as well as little obstacles like pipes along the way. It was all worth it!
Father Rui then led Jack, one of our group, as he climbed up the slope of the side of the waterfall. This was a little scary for us to watch but they just continued splashing each other with water and having a great time!
One doesn't have to look very hard at all to find beautiful sceneary in Timor-Leste!
Another of the most memorable experiences of the trip was playing with the local children of Laga. Every day, after school, about 20 students would come down and wait for us near the church. We had a tour around Laga with them all hand in hand, and they were so happy to show us their homes and teach us the words for animals passing by.
The sunsets on the beach were so beautiful! Everyone enjoyed skipping rocks, dancing and telling stories of crocodiles crawling up on the beach! Saying goodbye to the local kids in Laga was tearful and difficult, but we are so grateful we met them and spent so much time with them. I believe I speak for the rest of the group when I say we would do it all over again tomorrow!
Hau hadomi o Timor Leste!