IBCLCs Volunteering at HIAM-Health in Timor Leste (East Timor )

Article by Sue Williamson IBCLC, Anne Scollon IBCLC, and  Maree Twomy,Dietician

Sue, Maree & Anne relaxing with their much needed ILCA Fans

This is the first-hand recollection of volunteering overseas in East Timor as shared by three Australians, two IBCLCs and a Dietician, after their month long experience at HIAM-Health. This facility provides a place for mothers and babies to come for a week after being in Dili Hospital, to learn about health and nutrition.  Timor Leste (East Timor) has a population of  1 million, with unfortunately an infant mortality rate  as high as 111 per 1000 births in some districts. Over 50% of children under 5 years are malnourished and hungry (MoH 2008) HIAM Health is an abbreviation of the East Timorese words Hamutuk Ita Ajuda Malu “Together we help each other”.

 “Almost home”…an email shared from Sue, Anne, and Maree.   Bon Dia Colleagues, Friends, and Family,

Our time at HIAM health Dili has been an amazing cultural, emotional, and educational experience for Anne, Maree and myself. The Timorese have endured incredible hardships and yet are simple, happy people, interested in learning, especially those in our class room.

Leaders breastfeeding their children

We have had 20 days of teaching breastfeeding and nutrition, also laughter, singing, and exercises.  Our endorphins are high. We sleep well. The 3 of us have bonded well and our skills complimented each others’ personalities. We could have never picked a better team.    We have taught women and men from 3 different communities; Aileu , Ermera district, and Atauro Island. They are valued leaders in their communities – non medical. They have shared with us their culture and stories and we will never forget.

Also the HIAM health workers were in our sessions most of the time.  They have heard the information 3 times over, so hopefully they can continue to teach the mothers in the centre. There are nurses amongst them plus those who are studying nutrition, a great benefit to the centre. They have been very impressive.  Jill (director at HIAM Health) has chosen well and they have great respect for her and Rosaria.  We had about 15 to 20 people at each session.   The Mothers and babies/ toddlers in residence, about 10 to 15 at a time, plus some siblings, usually stay for 21 days depending on the conditions. We have children with Tuberculous, heart disease with a weak suck etc.  All with malnutrition, they are put on a “plump-up” corn meal program. It takes about 2 months to make a difference in their body structure. There are 10 breastfeeding mothers in the center at the moment and we will be teaching and encouraging them over the next couple of days and spending time with the little one with a weak suck.

Around maternal health, the mothers eat very little in pregnancy so they can have small babies for easier labour.  Many still give birth at home and some still don’t give colostrum.  Instead they give sugar water. The mother and baby stay beside the fire in a smoky room for a number of days, postpartum. They usually breastfeed for beyond 2 years of age, and all sleep with their babies. Mothers believe when they are pregnant with their next child, that they should wean the first so he / she won’t be infected by the milk. With inverted nipples and delayed milk supply they stop breastfeeding. If their milk is not flowing well by day 2 they give up.

The two directors, Jill Hillary (Aussie) and Rosaria Martins da Cruz (Timorese) are amazing.  Jill works as the advisor and Rosaria as the up-front person.  Both had a vision for this place, meaning ‘together we can help each other’. You can read all about them on the HIAM Health web site.

There is a miracle tree here, called the MORINGA tree, and it is very high in protein, vitamins, and minerals.  Maree has been encouraging everyone to eat it 3 times a day for health and wellbeing. What a blessing as it grows all over Timor.   It’s like breast milk… free and readily available.

We visited Dr Dan Murphy’s clinic at Bairo Pite. So many medical problems and then a ward full of stunted young children,  oh so much to take in!  During our 2 hour round with him, we checked 5 new babies born overnight and witnessed a mother with Tuberculosis, who has been ill for many years, take her last breath! He sees 300 patients a day in his clinic!

Our rest and recreation at Atauro Island over night seemed like a ‘full week’ of rest. We stayed in an Eco hut and enjoyed meeting people who were bringing various skills to help Timor get back on their feet. It warmed our hearts to hear their stories. The clear sea water refreshed us to no end. We enjoyed being at the celebration for Tour de Timor, the extremely tough annual bike ride.  We even shook hands with the President, Prime Minister and his Aussie wife, Kirsty. Oh my, what a day! We also were invited to the US Embassy to have cocktails with Judith Fergin the Ambassador.  Always so much excitement going on here in Dili, we will never be the same. I think that will be enough for now, see you when we get home.”

Blessing Sue, Anne and Maree

Read about the History of Timor Leste (East Timor)

Sue:  aussiesjw@gmail.com

Anne:   scollona@optusnet.com.au

For more information about Sue, Anne, and Maree’s trip to East Timor, please see their article in the February E-Globe.

6 Responses to IBCLCs Volunteering at HIAM-Health in Timor Leste (East Timor )

  1. anne Scollon 24 January 2012 at 22:10 #

    Thanks Decalie for the great article. You have helped put Hiam Health on the map so that more and more will read what a great thing Jill Hillary is doing as director there. Timorese do need our support, especially when they are our neighbours and we have turned our backs on them.
    Thankyou
    Anne Scollon

    • lactationmatters 27 January 2012 at 09:39 #

      It is truly ILCA’s LM Blog editors pleasure. Thanks Ladies for sharing your amazing HIAM-Health experiences with the Lactation Consultants around the world, any further information post a reply . If you havent already, check out HIAM Health website and see how you can make a difference.

  2. Susan Kendall AM 24 January 2012 at 23:43 #

    This is a good story about volunteers working in Timor Leste so thankyou for sharing it . However I would like to point out that the clinic at Bairo Pite does NOT belong to Dr Dan … though he has worked there for many years and his name is synonymous with the clinic, the correct name is the Bairo Pite Clinic

  3. Susan Kendall AM 25 January 2012 at 04:33 #

    With all the money that has been spent in Timor Leste since 1999, I find it extraordinary that a wonderful service such as HIAM Health is still struggling for funding and will have to close in June/July this year if donors cannot be found. I have followed their progress since the days they were based in 2 shipping containers on the grounds of Dili National Hospital (HNGV) and then the move to a purpose built facility that provides optimum care for the most vulnerable in the community, malnourished babies and children and their mothers. It is a truly remarkable achievement on the part of the Director, the Advisor and the staff. Adequate nourishment for children and their mothers is a basic human right. Timor Leste has unacceptably high rates of malnutrition, particularly in babies and children, and will lose the ONLY holistic treatment facility in the country to combat an extensive and deadly problem if sustainable funding is not secured immediately.
    Where are the International donors? Where is the Government of Timor Leste?
    This is an URGENT plea for help, NOW!

  4. Sue Williamson 25 January 2012 at 08:24 #

    Thank You Susan for addressing the issue of funding so clearly for HIAM Health. We only had a short time there, experiencing life with the Families while we watched the mothers feed their crying babies with the corn meal plump up food, then learning about nutrition and food preparation. With gardening experience they take the skills back to their villages and teach the whole village.
    This instills confidence and unites the families in a practical way bringing hope and healing.
    HIAM Health follows up all their families and provides support as needed.
    In the class room volunteers train the health workers in nutrition breastfeeding fertility and women empowerment.
    The ripple effect of this holistic teaching centre addressing Maternal/ Infant malnutrition and major health concerns for Timor Leste is a vital asset to help this country get back on its feet.
    This is one way to let them know we care.

  5. Maree Twomey 28 January 2012 at 04:06 #

    So glad that the message of HIAM HEALTH’s purpose and their struggle with funds can be put in your magazine and this blog initiated. Thankyou to all concerned.
    It has been important for me to go and see in person what is happening in East Timor and find out the TRUTH. How fortunate I was to travel and work with Sue and Anne, and see the difference that lactation consultants have on both the Mums and Babies, and in teaching the Fathers too. How amazing it was to see the faces of the new Mums and the Health Care workers when Sue and Anne kept reiterating to them that colostrum was the ‘best food for the newborn’. The East Timorese had been teaching their mothers for years that colostrum was ‘bad’ for the baby, and gave sugar and water instead.
    The Staff and Families at HIAM are so dedicated, and inspiring. As one of the East Timorese, Eddy, a young health care worker said “My people are ‘starving’ for education and assistance from people in such countries as yours. We want to know how to help our own people and become a strong independent country.”
    Working there as a nutritional educator, I can see that initiative and willingness to change is thwarted, due to poverty, thirst and hunger. If we can assist in any way possible by helping with funds, encouragement to the people, education, volunteering, spreading the ‘truth’ in Australia, or any creative way you can – ….. please help.

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