Progressio development worker David Muganga has had a terrifying past, but has grown to use the experience to help others, writes Progressio chief executive Mark Lister from Timor-Leste:

Progressio's 10 development workers based in Timor-Leste certainly bring a rich, international mix of experience and skills to share with our Timorese partner organisations. They are experts in advocacy, in organisational development, knowledge management, community development, HIV and AIDS and financial management. And alongside these technical skills they also bring their own personal life experience to their work. 

There’s Weng, Cyra and Vilma, three women from the Philippines, Renier a man also from the Philippines, Victor from Kenya, Stefan from the Netherlands and Benedict, Frederick and David who are all Ugandans. Everyone is also looking forward to Nico, from Indonesia, joining the team. 

I feel lucky to be gaining a massive insight from just a little time with them. As individuals, and as a team, they have a really good understanding of the challenges that a new and fragile democracy faces. But more importantly, I feel truly inspired by their deep commitment to supporting poor and marginalised people to make progress.

The quietest spoken, David, is a very tall and calm Ugandan, whose past thrust upon him special insight into how people can and do cope with the trauma of conflict – a reality that has scarred most of the Timorese population. 

A casual chat with David over dinner left me awestruck.

I asked David about his life in Uganda and after a while he told me that he was a late entrant into school. Then he calmly began to expand, "I was forced to be a child soldier. From age three. For four years I saw many bad things. I thought my parents were dead. They were able to find me because my older brother was with me as a soldier."  

He told me he didn't mind talking about it and I asked him how he got to become so calm. "At school I was sometimes violent at first," David explained. "I was much older than the others and tall so I was very big in my class. I have become calm. I had some counselling and received some love from my parents."

In Timor-Leste, the value of David’s insight is incalculable. The Timorese population have suffered horrors that I cannot even contemplate - men were beaten and killed, women and daughters routinely raped by occupying forces. 

A decade on from 24 years of occupation and brutality, on occasions conflict still bursts out in Timor-Leste. Violence, whether in the home, man against wife, or between families, neighbours or gangs should have no place in the new nation and the Timorese recognise it needs addressing.  

So, I can see how David can make a unique contribution as a role model as well as an expert in community development. I'm so looking forward to tomorrow when I'll be meeting the Timorese people that he works with in the rural district of Liquice.

The amazing work that Progressio’s development workers carry out is sometimes a labour of love. And David’s story brings it home to me how even in the most terrifying of circumstances love can take root and be at the heart of people powered development.

Progressio Chief Executive, Mark Lister, travelled to Timor-Leste in July 2013.

Photo: David Muganga with youth members of FONGTIL (photo © Mark Lister/Progressio)