Chris Kendrick FCPA was more accustomed to wielding a calculator than a drill before she went to East Timor. That's all changed.
Climbing ladders and using power tools in the tropical heat of an East Timorese village was a huge leap outside Chris Kendrick FCPA’s comfort zone, but she says the first fortnight she spent there in 2012 transformed her life.
“After three days of working all day in the heat and humidity, then collapsing in bed and not being able to sleep because of the heat, then getting up at the crack of dawn, I thought: ‘I don’t think I can cope. I won’t last two weeks’.
“But then I looked around me, at the people who had volunteered for four or five years there – they were immersing themselves in helping out – and I listened to the gratitude of the local people and I thought: ‘I can do this tiny bit to make a difference’. It changed the way I look at the world.”
Alice Springs-based Kendrick travelled to East Timor with Yooralla Youth Ministries Australia, a Christian charity that works to help Timorese and Australian young people to transform their lives. She had previously worked with the charity’s co-founder, Greg Buxton, at Alice Springs Town Council.
“I thought: ‘I can do this tiny bit to make a difference’.”
As part of a group of 25 volunteers, Kendrick helped build a community disability centre at the coastal village of Hera, a 40-minute drive from Dili. The centre included a training hall, doctors’ rooms and overnight respite accommodation. The team erected pre-fabricated steel frames, screwed them together, and added bricks and roofs.
They also assisted at a local school.
“We didn’t actually teach but helped the kids doing art and getting the materials organised. They didn’t speak English at all, but with kids you don’t need a common language to communicate.”
It is all very different from Kendrick’s day job as corporate services director for the MacDonnell Regional Council, which administers an area of more than 268,000sq km in outback Central Australia.
But after her first trip to East Timor, Kendrick was smitten. She returned twice the following year; first to see the completed centre and then to join another project, laying the foundations for Casa Vida, a refuge in Dili for children who have suffered physical or sexual violence.
“The girls cooked for us every night and entertained us as their way of repaying us, but hearing their very sad stories about their backgrounds just pulled me apart.”
This September, she will return to East Timor for a fourth time, to begin construction on a general medical clinic, beside the community disability centre she helped build three years ago.
Even though East Timor is a young country – it became a sovereign state in 2002 and is among the poorest in Asia – Kendrick believes Australia could learn a little from how it runs social programs. She sees the government as responding to local people’s needs, not with a top-down approach, but by consulting on what’s really needed.
“Going to a country like East Timor, that’s struggling to get over all that’s happened in the past … Seeing how they’re trying to make a difference themselves, not waiting for other people to solve all their problems, and seeing the results, it’s quite moving,” she says.
Yooralla Youth Ministries Australia
Twins Greg and Gordon Buxton established Yooralla Youth Ministries in 1996 as a Christian charity that works with local church communities and other organisations to improve people’s lives.
Over the years, Yooralla has partnered with local Timorese groups to set up a disability centre, a girls’ refuge, dental clinics, general health and birthing clinics, pre-schools, a primary school, high school and adult education.
Four to five times a year, Yooralla brings Australian volunteers and Christian youth groups to East Timor to help construct buildings, and to assist in the dental clinic and teacher training.
This article is from the June issue of INTHEBLACK.