Education for the children has always been a priority for the Atabae community since we first made contact with them soon after East Timor gained its independence from Indonesia. By about 2010 the children had better access to schools and it was considered time to look to the education needs of the broader community as well as the children. There was a widespread interest in learning English for better employment opportunities. This included both school children and older people, especially recent school leavers and young adults.

In response to this expressed need, FPET and PALMS decided to look for and supporta volunteer to take on the development of an education program at Atabae. The initial intentions were to establish some English language classes and review the broader educational needs of the community and gaps in current services.

We were fortunate to obtain the services of Anne Chapman, a very well qualified and experienced teacher from Melboune to volunteer to establish our Atabae education program. During that first year she selected three locals as trainee assistant teachers. This was to ensure locals developed the skills to continue teaching others without the need for other visiting teachers.

While Anne initially volunteered for a single year (2011), she chose to accept the invitation to extend that time for another year. It was evident that the program was going well but needed to be maintained over a longer period to become self sutaining.

While the English classes continued to be the main focus of teaching, a need for some training in computer use was also acknowledged and some training started in computer use. When Ian Gray arrived in 2012 as another FPET supported PALMS volunteer to work on community development issues, he got involved in the computer training because of his expertise with computers.

By the time Anne left, she had established a considerable library of English language books and, with the help of colleagues, lots of support materials for the trainee teachers as well has having got them doing regular lesson planning and peer evaluation to help them build their teaching skills. Other teachers had also visited to further support the project.

Heather Henderson, another PALMS volunteer supported by FPET has now arrived in Atabae to lead the education program. Heather comes from Brisbane and is another very well qualified and experienced teacher.

The original teaching team established by Anne Chapman. From left: John, Anne, Afon & Maria
Heather Henderson (right) met with Anne Chapman to discuss the FPET supported Atabae education program before committing to volunteering with PALMS for this placement.