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Each year two Xavier students participate in an immersion experience in East Timor with students from other Australian Jesuit and companion schools (Xavier, St Aloysius, Saint Ignatius Adelaide, Riverview, St Ignatius, Geelong, Loyola Watsonia, Xavier Hervey Bay, Loyola Mount Druitt, Xavier Ballina and John XXIII Perth. The Xavier mothers help sponsor this immersion, and after the 2016 Senior Campus Mothers’ Day Mass, two of our Year Twelves, Harry Kirkland and Tiernan O’Brien spoke briefly about the impact of the experience on them.
"(Harry) There have been many experiences in my life which I consider crucial in forming me as the person I am today. I consider my brief time in Timor Leste as a defining part of not only my 8 year journey with Xavier College, but one of the most important aspects of my life. There are few people who can say that they have had the fortune to experience what myself and the 15 other boys and girls allowed to during the June/July holidays of 2015.
I should also acknowledge that it was in fact Tiernan who first suggested to me that we should apply for this fantastic opportunity. On the bases of me being a super nice guy I accepted his proposal and by God’s unknown wisdom we were chosen by Fr Middleton and Ms Fonseca to attend, and who could blame them for wanting us to represent the College amongst the other Jesuit colleges around Australia in an overseas immersion.
The Timorese people have endured an incomprehensible amount of suffering in their short history. Just days after gaining their independence from Portugal Indonesia invaded in December 1975, this was a horrific invasion and an even bloodier occupation as the Indonesians slaughtered hundreds of thousands innocent Timorese people. The Indonesians upon being driven out of the country completely destroyed all infrastructure, burning their way out. These horrendous actions are still visible through ramifications in modern day Timor. Seeing firsthand the damage left behind I can sadly but confidently tell you all that the Timorese are still suffering. One sad example of this is poisoned water from lead dumping and a non-existent sewage system which have both contributed to epidemics of cholera and tuberculosis throughout rural villages.
The group was fortunate enough to experience two of these isolated communities, Railaco and Kasait. By assessing the groups reception at the schools a reporter would assume the Royals had showed up, the enthusiasm the children and teachers displayed was completely unique and infectious. Within minutes of being received there was dancing, singing and even tears from some of the more emotionally driven members of our group.
The children of these Jesuit schools are currently being educated to be the future leaders of Timor. The way the students respected their teacher was also something quite foreign to me, there was no inkling of misbehaviour. Rather every child was greatly appreciative for the Jesuits presence and thanked them regularly for their completely voluntary service, always wearing the big smile.
I leant many skills whilst being in Railaco. For a day I was a teacher, Brother Harry, teaching my class 9B English and Mathematics. The Jesuit principle almost asked me to stick around a while for the kids, but alas I was needed elsewhere. Another day I was a manual worker, shovelling dirt for the foundation of a new set of classrooms for the school. Whilst definitely not an expert I feel I contributed a great deal to the new building. Finally and by far the most useful skill I learned one which I still practice was being trained as a medical man.
Fr/Dr/visionary Jesuit Fr Bong took me under his wing to show me how to be a Doctor, whilst many spend up to 7 years in University to earn their Medial degree I spent around 30 seconds earning my approval from Fr Bong and the crucial advice: “The needle goes in the arm, Harry. Aim for the bicep and smile”. And with that I was no longer Brother Harry but in fact Dr Harry grand healer of Timor. Where any could come for a check-up free of charge. So if any of your sons are having difficulties send them my way, Fr Middleton will provide my email address."
(Tiernan) "Good morning Father Middleton, Dr Hayes and mothers of Xavier College,
Having seen Harry’s medical work first hand, I would advise you to avoid him at all costs.
At the beginning of 2015 Harry and I were presented with the opportunity to apply for the Timor Immersion. As you heard before in my infinite wisdom I convinced him to apply with me, yet even then I don’t think either of us anticipated the immense effect this immersion would have on us.
I could speak at great length about many of the formative experiences Harry and I shared in Timor and yet there is one that seems to embody the purpose of the trip. Upon arrival in Dilli we drove deep in the mountains of Timor coming to Railaco a regional community, isolated due to poor infrastructure. Little did I know the following day was to be one of the most influential experiences of my life.
From our regional base we drove further into the mountains to communities virtually untouched by the modern advances of our society. These people generally slept with their entire extended family in a one room hut made out of wood and straw. They were sustenance farmers who lived on poor land and as such often didn’t have enough food to feed themselves let alone to make a profit. Many of the children showed signs of severe malnourishment. Three days a week the Jesuits stationed at Railaco travel into the mountains to deliver food to these vulnerable people. Harry and I had the fortune of joining them on this taxing journey. There is no doubt in my mind without the incredible work of these men, like Father Bong and many others who selflessly devote their lives to serving the vulnerable, some of the people who we saw simply would not have been alive.
To give food to a child who is hungry and have their parent’s thank you profusely is one of the most confounding feelings imaginable. On one hand I was absolutely stoked just to be there and able to help alleviate the situation, if only temporarily. Yet beneath this I was consumed with a deep sense of sadness knowing for these people whilst they have survived today tomorrow will be an equal if not greater battle. The continued work of the Jesuits who carry out this program three times a week is integral to the survival of many Timorese. For me this captures the core value of the Jesuits in countries like Timor, because despite facing an arguably insurmountable challenge they meet each day head on with a renewed desire to make a difference, even if that difference is only to one person. Mother Theresa seemed to express these sentiments when she declared “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one”.
I’d like to finish by thanking you all for your generous donations, they truly are making an incredible impact where they are needed most. Happy Mother’s day."
Liz Allen (Head of Ignatius House) with Tiernan, Fr Chris Middleton (Rector) and Harry Kirkland