Trevor and Alison Gatland were based in the coastal town of Baucau, three hours’ drive east of Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, from February 2015 to November 2016. Trevor was a water and sanitation adviser with aid agency World Vision, and Alison was his accompanying partner.
- Baucau is Timor-Leste’s second city. It has had security problems over the years and soon after Trevor and Alison arrived, security was heightened as the police and army pursued rebel leader, Mauk Moruk, in the nearby hills. Mauk Moruk’s death in August 2015 saw tensions ease.
- Its colonial history has given Baucau a strong Portuguese flavour. A fine old Portuguese hotel, the Posada, was Trevor and Alison’s favourite spot for a daily cup of coffee.
- The town boasts a fine swimming baths fed by springs from the limestone hills. The baths were another favourite haunt, with the warm tropical temperatures allowing year-round swimming.
- The food market in the ‘new town’, the upper part of Baucau, is one of the best in Timor-Leste, Trevor and Alison say.
- They also enjoyed Baucau’s excellent beaches. However, crocodiles occasionally appear. Four months before Trevor and Alison returned home, a Timor local lost his arm in a crocodile attack.
- Expatriates in Baucau are occasionally subject to harrassment and rock throwing by locals and young women in particular can find it difficult. Despite all its challenges, Trevor and Alison say they are glad they lived in Baucau.
- Provision of clean water is an age-old problem in Timor-Leste, particularly during the dry season. Many diseases result from contaminated water supplies.
Six new water projects were completed in Baucau district during Trevor’s assignment, including five in remote inland villages halfway across the island. Among many highlights, Alison says, was exploring Timor’s countryside. Trevor enjoyed riding his motorbike to project sites, and the colourful opening ceremonies when a completed project was handed over to village control.
Trevor’s project team, who worked alongside local villagers, was made up of World Vision’s Timorese staff who were young, capable, and eager to learn. Trevor called on his plumbing background to offer advice but left it to the team to implement his ideas. That advisory role is one he enjoyed. “I wasn’t wholly responsible for the project in a way that a project manager or foreman is. It’s their project and I was just there to help.” During his assignment it was pleasing to see the team develop a reputation for quality work.
In one village Trevor was enjoying a cup of coffee with a former guerilla who had spent 25 years fighting occupying Indonesian forces. As they discussed the water project, the man told him that the freedom fighters had two aims. The first was a politically independent country, a free Timor-Leste. The second, he said, “was a free people, and it is through projects like this that we will free people”.