Offering remote villages hope

Published: Friday 6th May 2016

Local volunteers involved in ACU’s Barefoot Nurses: Train the Trainer program (TTT) in Timor-Leste have revealed the daily hardships they face living in isolated villages without access to proper health care.

An ACU team has just returned from Timor-Leste and said one volunteer who attended a workshop had to walk 90 minutes from her village before hiring a motorcycle to meet with the group.

“It became apparent that due to the remoteness of the community that she lives in, there are no visiting health clinics coming into the community as is usually the case in other communities,” Sr Monica Whelan, from the Institute for Advancing Community Engagement said.

“She was very keen to learn more about health and medical aid in order to be able to support her community where there are limited local health care facilities.

“Health Education such as Train the Trainer (TTT) can help empower communities like hers to better understand and care for their health.”

Sr Monica was joined by Meg Stuart, National Head of School of Science, and Shannon Barnes, Lecturer in Nursing, as they met with locals in Baucau, Timor-Leste, to prepare for TTT in June and September.

The Barefoot Nurses team works together with ACU’s partners including the local community, local organisations and the Ministry of Health. Together they are helping to fight the high rate of childhood mortality and disease in Timor-Leste by teaching locals basic skills in Medical Aid, promoting health literacy and basic care by the Timorese for the Timorese.

The team also heard of a recent outbreak of gastroenteritis that swept through a village threatening the lives of children. It was problems like this one that highlighted the need for ACU’s programs. TTT program has been running in two locations:  Maubisse for the past four years and  Baucau for the past two years, with more than 50 participants trained in each location.

ACU Team  said the program not only helped local communities but also boosted the learning and teaching experience for ACU students. Nursing students have provided hands on assistance for the practical sessions of the training, for example application of burns dressings, bandages, slings and other associated health conditions.

“For nursing students these interactions count towards their community health practicum? and they are assessed on their performance.”

Shannon Barnes said ACU’s 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 been and is, to support the basic health needs of the people through capacity building.”

The program won the Vice-Chancellor Award for Outstanding Community Engagement last year because it was recognized and acknowledged as fulfilling the University’s Mission to serve the common good, guided by a fundamental concern for justice, equity and the dignity of all human beings.

The TTT model has considerable relevance across Timor-Leste, for other developing countries and for communities in Australia. TTT is a reference point and a lighthouse program by the Catholic Alliance for International Development (CAID) in its work in Timor-Leste.

Meg said local healthcare communities identified more areas in which ACU could assist, such as additional training for local nursing staff.

“There is minimal allied health service provision in Timor-Leste and there is potential to work in this area for both staff and students.”

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