Lequeracabu’u school is finished!
The opening ceremony last Friday was both an extraordinary adventure and incredibly moving.
We travelled in convoy from Dili with Kirsty Sword Gusmao’s car along a pretty scary narrow road next to the coast towards the town of Baucau. The road is about one lane wide and hugs the most spectacular coastline. We dodged goats, pigs and frighteningly at times, children, as we drove for about 3 hours (it is only 100 km) to Baucau. We then turned off the bitumen road onto a dirt road. We’d all been praying for no rain, because there was a very real chance that the road could be closed and we wouldn’t be able to get through. It had poured the night before though and we were worried about how bad the road would be.
We managed to get a few kilometres along the road until we hit this extraordinary strip of deep churned up mud in which both of our cars managed to get well and truly stuck. Everyone got out of the cars, rolled up their trousers and plodded around in the mud, ripping up branches to put under the wheels and pushing cars. Kirsty (who had been in a lead car that had got through) came back, squelched through the mud and had a great time photographing the proceedings. Finally someone produced a car with a winch and we got the cars out. From there it was another half hour of at times terrifying off road driving, down muddy, rutted roads and slaloming along roads that had turned to mud. But we all got there, dirty and with our shoes covered in mud, but very happy to be there.
The villagers had made some temporary shelters for the festivities and we walked down towards them and the school to the drumming of an honour guard of villagers in traditional dress and carrying swords. There were about 600 people from Lequeracabu’u and some of the neighbouring villages there. Once we were seated, the festival began with dancing and singing and then speeches.
Kirsty spoke (in Tetum) – she is extraordinarly revered in Timor as the mother of the nation and there were a lot of the villagers with tears running down their faces, particularly some of the older men. We had the sense that this was a once in the lifetime event for these people who have endured, and continue to endure, so much hardship. I spoke (with Kirsty translating for me). I explained that the money had come from people in many different countries who had all been following the progress of the school and that many people around the world were thinking of them and their school.
The school is fantastic and it is in the most extraordinary location – it is an incredibly beautiful and remote area. After the speeches Kirsty unveiled the plaque which is mounted on a pedestal outside the front of the school and she and I cut the ribbon over the front door. Then we all ate – there were about 20 different dishes lined up on a big long table and tall sculpted piles of rice. It was really good and and when you know how little the villagers normally have to eat, a meal like that would be an amazing feast.
After the meal we gave away 100 school packs to the kids, which each contained school shirts, soap, toothbrush, books etc. The children were wide eyed and were all still holding the packs unopened in their arms when we left.
We went for a walk through the village which is a little way from the school, it is terribly poor and basic. The old school, if possible, was even worse than it looked in the photos we all saw. The contrast to their new beautiful, big new three classroom school was amazing. All in all it was an incredible day.
More news shortly about plans to spend the rest of the money raised for the school and the village. Also news to come about the new school site we saw for our next project.