Flexibility, cooperation and collaboration abounded between AusAID, STAE, AEC and UNDP when they recognised changing needs, conferred, agreed and rapidly changed the previously planned program.
The Northern Territory Election Commission (NTEC) issued an invitation for STAE staff to visit the Northern Territory and take part in an Election Visitor Program focussing on the conduct of the Municipal and Shire Elections which were being held for the first time. All concerned were very excited as East Timor is intending to hold Municipal and Suco (Village) elections, also for the first time, in 2009. So this opportunity was definitely too good not to take up. Thanks must go to the NTEC for their fantastic support of the East Timorese visitors and their generous release of staff to make presentations to the Election Program and demonstrate the conduct of the election. Thanks must also go to the AEC Northern Territory Management Team for generously extending an invitation to use the facilities in the Territory Office and for the support of the staff.
There was only a couple of weeks available to plan the program, organise travel, liaise with those running the elections to make sure the most value would be achieved from the visit – not to mention normal planning for a BRIDGE Voter Information Workshop which was to follow. A team of STAE, NTEC, UNDP, AusAID and AEC people funded, coordinated and organised the program at lightning speed.
Senor Tomas Cabral, Director STAE, Eduardo Casimiro de Deus, Chief of Department, General Support, Training and Education, STAE, Diane Cruz Almeida (UNDP Advisor) and all 13 District Coordinators from East Timor landed in Darwin on Monday 20 October and departed on Thursday 30 October 08. What an action packed ten days of amazing new experiences and excellent learning opportunities followed? For many people this was the first time they had ever left East Timor and their families and this experience alone was a significant adventure in itself!
The Election Visitor Program covered many aspects of the election including attending training for polling staff, observing pre-polling and pre-election administrative duties in head office. Two of the district coordinators were lucky enough to attend remote polling prior to Election Day. They travelled in a very small plane to the Tiwi Islands where they stayed overnight and the next day again travelled by plane to a remote mainland community. Naturally, they shared their experiences and adventures with their colleagues when they returned. Election Day began very early with a trip to a nearby polling place to observe the Officer in Charge conducting the polling place setup and instructions for the day with her staff. A trip out of Darwin after breakfast led to an extended period of observation in an extremely well run polling place. The day concluded with the observation of the count in yet another polling place and a return to head office to see further counting and the assessment of the day.
After the program Augusto Pereira wrote:
"It was a privilege to have a visit from the Ambassador of Timor-Leste, Mr Hernani Coelho to the workshop. Importantly he addressed participants about the importance of elections in the democratic context. Mr Coelho also discussed with the participants the value of registering Timorese who live abroad. However, before doing that everyone should think about all associated legal aspects, logistical issues, financial and other related matters of entering into registration and participation in elections for those living abroad. All participants were really happy to see Mr Hernani Coelho. In his short visit he delivered important messages to the Timorese Election Observation group in Darwin. Many thanks Mr Coelho. "
"Unsaid thanks from all STAE’s District Coordinators about their visits to Darwin. It was a first in their life – and a gold trip to Darwin – said three coordinators on different occasions. It was a privilege to see many aspects of development in Darwin, our closest neighbour. It was really good for some to see from Darwin town to the Tiwi Islands. It was important to see how to do things differently. Many thanks to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) National Office and NT Office, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) organised the trip within such a short period – they made it happen! This cooperation is really important to maintain in the future."
The BRIDGE Voter Information module was facilitated across four days by Eduardo Casimiro de Deus, Augusto Pereira, Belinda Bennett and Cate Thompson. All STAE staff attended and were joined by two AEC NT staff. Pedro Laurantine da Silva supported the program throughout with his usual high quality translations and interpreting services.
This was Belinda’ first opportunity to facilitate BRIDGE since her attendance at a TtF in Melbourne in May 2008. She did an exceptional job and has now become a fully accredited BRIDGE facilitator. Congratulations Belinda. When asked to make a contribution to this report she submitted the following:
"When asked to reflect on my first BRIDGE facilitating experience in Darwin many words came to mind – fun, exciting, interesting, hard work!! hot, humid. But I think for me the word to best sum up my experience is inspiring. Meeting the participants from East Timor, hearing them talk of their experience, sharing their knowledge and learning from one another was inspiring. This is something I will always remember of my experience in Darwin.
Seeing AEC staff from our Darwin office be involved in the group work and share their experiences was inspiring. There were no language barriers.
Seeing my fellow facilitator’s in full flight was inspiring. I learnt more than I could possibly have imagined from Cate, Augusto and Eduardo. You are all truly inspiring.
Working with Pedro, translator extraordinaire, was inspiring. His ability to put you at ease and help you to get your message across was inspiring.
So thank you to all of you for making this experience a truly inspiring one. These are memories that will last a lifetime.
Additional comments from Pedro:
"I have lived, visited and known Darwin differently before this particular visit with the STAE staff. Working in Darwin as a translator/interpreter, made me feel as if I was wearing different glasses than usual. Making me realise that there were many more things that that I should have known, especially electoral related matters, like election systems, election types, ways of election implementation, etc. Meeting new people who I have heard of and I haven’t heard of their names before, like Michael Maley, Michelle and Belinda from the AEC and two friends, Warren, Mathew and other members of NTEC. It was significant experience and like Belinda says, it was inspiring indeed.Being a message transformer, I have learned a lot through observation of NTEC Municipal and Shire election process, experience and knowledge shared among facilitators, Guest Speakers, STAE staff from Timor-Leste and the polling staff."
Everyone was fantastic!
Seizing the opportunity certainly led to positive and meaningful experiences and adventures for all concerned.