Barefoot Nurses

ACU's Barefoot Nurses team are helping to fight the high rate of childhood mortality and disease in Timor-Leste by working together with partners, the local community, local organsiations and the Ministry for Health in teaching locals first aid skills, promoting health literacy and basic care by Timorese for Timorese.

Imagine a life without health care, a local GP, local Medical Centre or availability of basic pharmacetical benefits. This is how East Timorese village people live everyday.

Barefoot Nurses Aims

Our approach is focused on making personal contact with the Timorese people, being sensitive to their needs and culture, patiently educating them in effective ways of improving their own health and cooperating with local health initiatives. The main focus of the Barefoot Nurses has and is, to support the basic health needs of the people through capacity building.

Alignment to Mission

Barefoot Nurses aligns closely with ACU's mission and identity by working collaboratively with all stakeholders to serve the common good through the lens of health, nutrition and wellbeing for the families of marginalised and disadvantaged communities of Timor-Leste.

History of the Barefoot Nurses program

The Development of the Barefoot Nurses program

Stage 1 - Understanding

The Barefoot Nurses project commenced in 2010 in support of the San Antonio clinic in Baucau.

The clinic was established to support the staff and students of ICFP, the local Catholic Teachers' College. In 2012, the San Antonio clinic was located adjacent to a second clinic run by sisters of the Congregation of the Imitation of Jesus (CIJ) which had been in Timor-Leste for 25 years.

The CIJ clinic is unique in that they have their own traditional treatment methods which rely heavily on natural and herbal remedies. In contrast, the San Antonio clinic provided western medicine and training for a nurse to prescribe medications.

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Stage 2 - Research

In the second phase in 2012, the Institute for Advancing Community Engagement (IACE) created a research post by sponsoring an Australian-East Timorese nurse who re-located to Baucau for six months to research and conduct a health scoping study to explore how ACU could best work with the community in Baucau and the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health.

Stage 3 - Train the Trainer

ACU's School of Nursing and IACE designed and conducted innovative train the trainer workshops in Baucau in July 2014. The "Train the Trainer" program consisted of six days intensive training on basic health, nursing and nutrition. At the end of the training a celebration was held recognising the twenty-one East Timorese participants with a formal ceremony where they received a Certificate of Participation endorsed by ACU's Faculty of Health Sciences and Institute for Advancing Community Engagement.

The program was well received, highly satisfactory outcome with very positive evaluations from the participants such as:

"This course has focused on simple but effective treatments of health issues in the village situation where most modern medication is unavailable. For me this has been a most useful course."

"I am very happy and I love to learn especially about the health matter. I feel the training was really good because I learn a lot from it and through this training really help me to become a good trainer in the upcoming year which is one of my plans for the future."

Together we are building healthy communities.

Barefoot Nurses: Train the Trainer Health (TTT) program, Timor-Leste

Winner 2015 Vice-Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Community Engagement

In 2013 the Barefoot Nurses, with the staff of local health clinics, San Antonio and San Damian, and partners developed the concept of a "Train the Trainer" health program to cover basic health, nursing and nutrition for the local villagers.

This program was established in collaboration with Australian Catholic University's (ACU) Institute for Advancing Community Engagement (IACE) and the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Program Objectives

The aim of the TTT program is to increase the level of knowledge about health in local communities. Initial evidence suggests that TTT is having a significant impact on the communities. The local health clinics, Seven Eleven Farmacia in Baucau and Sao Joachim clinics in Maubisse act as conduits to implement TTT and carry out the training.

The impact of the program can be measured through the number of people visiting the above clinics. In Baucau, for example, the past year has seen an increase in patients in Seven Eleven Farmacia. While the average monthly visits to Seven Eleven Farmacia in 2014 were 38 patients, this had increased to an average of 78 per month in 2015 and to even larger numbers in Seical and Fatumaka villages, two remote villages that Seven Eleven Farmacia's mobile clinic visits twice a month. The sustainability of the BFN TTT is based upon the increased responsibility and capacity of the people, the endorsement of the Ministry of Health and the priority given to it by the Emerge Foundation.

Partners in the Barefoot Nurses, Train the Trainer program

The exemplary leadership by ACU's IACE and the Faculty of Health Sciences has strengthened the partnership of the University with community, government, Church and not-for-profits organisations in Timor-Leste and Australia including:

  • eMerge Foundation;
  • St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill;
  • St Joseph's Parish, Camperdown;
  • San Antonio Parish, Baucau, Timor-Leste;
  • Seven Eleven Farmacia, Baucau, Timor-Leste;
  • Carmelite Sisters at the Sao Joachim clinic, Maubisse, Timor-Leste;
  • Ministry of Health, Timor-Leste;
  • National Institute of Health (INS), Timor-Leste

In addition, TTT contributes to the preparation of highly competent ACU graduates through their TTT experience of leadership, working with families from different cultures and the associated social and ethical dimensions of their personal and professional experiences in the communities of Timor-Leste.

Related Links

For more information please contact:

Sr Monica Whelan LCM
Institute for Advancing Community Engagement
Australian Catholic University
p: +61 2 9701 4142