Fi is from Yorkshire in the UK and is currently working as a HIV Adviser with Fundasuan Timor Harii (FTH) on HIV prevention and with Estrela + (a people living with HIV network), in Timor-Leste.
What is your work background?
Immediately before joining Progressio, I had been working in South and South East Asia for five years, initially as a VSO volunteer for two years in Bangladesh, then as a Consultant for six months. The last two years I was Technical Assistance and Capacity Building Unit Manager with the Asian Harm Reduction Network based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but travelling extensively through the region. Previous to working in Development, I had worked for16 years managing programmes for Drug Users, Sex Workers and young people in the UK.
How would you describe yourself?
I am passionate about preventing HIV and ensuring people’s rights to access to appropriate treatment, care and support. When people ask me what I do, I usually say “Sex and Drugs!” It usually makes people relax; and I can usually be found wearing pink, with a stick holding my hair up and chatting to people about HIV prevention and stigma and discrimination.
What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?
I wanted to go back to actually working with people instead of dropping in, delivering training or evaluating projects then buzzing off. With Progressio I felt I would have the chance to work closely with my partner organisations to support them in developing their capacity, strengthening their organisations and sustaining their impact.
What is your first memory of arriving in Timor-Leste?
From the plane, Timor-Leste looked like an emerald chip on a sapphire sea. After landing on what looked like the shortest runway I have ever seen, I was met by the Progressio driver who pointed out landmarks as we cruised into town. I was taken to the office then for lunch and then to the home of another Development Worker who had offered to host me until my accommodation was ready.
…and what made the biggest impact on you?
I got a big surprise when introduced to the director of my partner organisation. We had met at a conference last year, and my people living with HIV network had heard of me through mutual friends. So I felt very welcome.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
To a large extent I am still settling into my role, after only three months. I am enjoying getting to know my colleagues and am beginning to identify where, with who and how I can best meet the objectives of the placement.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
During my second week, my partner organisation had strategic planning in a distant coastal district. Half way there the director complained of back pain and asked me to drive. I had 15 team members in the truck, I didn’t speak Tetum and it was growing dark, we had to weave through unlit villages, avoiding chickens, dogs, buffalo, goats and children, fording rivers on a crumbling narrow road. When we finally arrived in the dark two hours later, some of the team were laughing and saying I drive like an old lady – but we made it.
And the biggest lesson?
Plans run on Timor time so it is fruitless to get wound up! Every time I think I understand this complex country something happens which shows me I am only scratching the surface. A friend has been here nearly ten years and she still feels that sometimes. Ergo: There is always something more to learn.
What is the biggest development challenge facing Timor-Leste and the area in which you are working?
This country is very new and has a history of occupation by oppressive means. Much of the infrastructure was destroyed by the most recent occupiers, the geography is mountainous and difficult to pass, communication is challenging, things break down or run out, and parts, foodstuffs and medicines are imported. Due to poverty and conflict and frequent changes in language most people have limited or patchy education if any. There is a high proportion of young people and a lot of ignorance about sexual and reproductive health, STI rates are high, child/maternal mortality is high but the HIV infection rate is at less than one percent - we hope to keep it there.
If you could change one thing, what would that be?
For my personal convenience, internet at home.
For one of my organisations, a reliable water supply to the office so we could flush, and for my other organisation, legal recognition.
For all my constituents, a reduction or obliteration of stigma and discrimination.
What strikes you most about Progressio’s Development Worker model?
It is very similar to VSO, but the placement is advertised rather than the Development Worker applying and getting placed, so you have a much clearer idea about what you are applying for.
What is your favourite motto or saying?
“Do you know anything about HIV?” I also say “condom” about 24 times a day, I counted.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?
Don’t pack your expectations, you cannot change the world.
Pack:1. Your happy face.2. Your resilience.3. Fortitude.4. A big bag of patience.5. Really bendy flexibility.6. Your readiness to listen.7. Some determination.8. A willingness to share your skills.9. A whole pack of resourcefulness.10. A heaped spoon of self-reliance.11. A positive mental attitude.12. No excess baggage.
With this toolkit and your skills, you will change some minds and change some lives, supporting your partners to change their world.
Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?
It is a long way in the future – at the moment I am thinking I might like to work here for longer than two years. Ask me again next year?
Is there anything else you would like to share – that you think would be good for a potential Progressio supporter or someone interested in working with Progressio?
Supporters should be aware that you are supporting professional people, working really hard in difficult circumstances to build the capacity of local partners; to make changes in their communities and countries; which eliminate some of the causes of poverty and strengthen their capacity to develop the societies they want to live in.
Those interested in working with Progressio should look at websites, contact ex-Development Workers, research the country and have a long hard look at themselves.