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Visiting Los Palos

I returned to the Dili team house last night after three days in Los Palos, a regional town on the eastern tip of Timor Leste. Concern’s Assistant Country Director, Tapan Barman, and I left the capital on Tuesday to spend a few days checking on Concern’s work there.

Los Palos is one of Concern’s two projects areas in Timor. The trip offered me a chance to see more of the countryside and gain some exposure to Concern’s work at reducing poverty in this beautiful but desperately poor and troubled country.

Tapan scheduled meetings with district government officials, Concern staff and consultants, and local non-governmental organisations with which Concern partners. I planned to look for stories for the Concern website.

We drove through a camp of internally displaced people, victims of ethnic fighting who were burned out of their homes. They live in temporary straw houses or tents stacked next to each other until more permanent homes can be found. Many flags of Fretilin, the main opposition party, flew over the camp. After a five-hour journey, we pulled into Los Palos at twilight and spent the night at the Roberto Carlos Hotel, run by an Angolan-Portuguese man and his Timorese wife. I slept in what the clerk called a “traditional house” – essentially a grass hut with a straw roof and reeds for walls.

In the morning, we stopped by the Concern office, and then headed to Luro, a remote region where Concern is promoting disaster mitigation and food security strategies. Two Concern consultants from the Philippines were giving a two-day training course on 3D mapping and GIS technology, combined with local knowledge, to plan for future development and to prepare better for natural disasters. Timor Leste is prone to drought, floods, locust infestation and other disasters which hamper the country’s ability to produce enough food to feed its population.

While Tapan spoke with the consultants, I walked around the town with Ashutosh Dey, Concern’s disaster mitigation advisor in Los Palos. We stumbled upon a procession of villagers singing songs and carrying a live pig on a rack, held over the shoulders of four men. We later learned that a villager had died. The procession was part of a traditional ceremony prior to slaughtering the pig and roasting it for a community feast to honor the dead. After the villagers passed by and headed for the butchering site, I thought what an honor it was to have witnessed the procession – such a powerful display of caring and respect for the life of a community member.