Nov 24-29, 2012 - Laga, Timor-Leste
The 2012 PermaScout Camp was such an ambitious project. Ego Lemos, the founder and driving force behind it, planned for 1,200 people to be involved, up from 450 in Dili in Feb 2008 and 600 near Aileu in 2011.
The name PermaScout is a conflation of Permaculture and Scouts. Ego spent 15 years working as Timor-Leste’s only certifed Permaculture practioner, and worked with Lachlan McKenzie on the Indonesian/Tetum/English edition of the Permaculture book produced especially for tropical village conditions. This is a very successful and influential publication. He attributes most of his skills as a project developer and manager to his training as a Scout during Indonesian times.
Tequino Mata, near Laga, East of Baucau, is known to be a socially difficult area. This was one of the reasons Ego and his team chose to locate the camp there. They spent a year consulting with the locals, finding a suitable space and preparing it for the camp. This involved clearing land for camping areas, preparing washing areas and compost toilets, building stalls for 30 service groups and building a large covered stage. Labour for the construction was provided free of charge by locals, and what is left behind after the camp is a market place and outdoor performance centre.
This time of year Tequino Mata is dry and dusty. It’s also remote. On the second day of the camp we visited Sagadati, to see a recent development by Permatil (Permaculture Timor-Leste), Ego’s NGO which arranges Permaculture training and development projects throughout the country. Water was pumped from a spring approximately 1km to a tank at the top of a hill, from where it was distributed to surrounding households. There was nothing particularly radical in the design of this - a conventional electrical pump using power from grid feeding water into a pressure hose placed in a small trench dug by the locals. However, the project was revolutionary for the villagers, saving hours of walking every day in sweltering conditions to collect water. The 17 km journey on the back of a truck took over an hour, such is the isolation of Sagadati. There are far more remote villages in Timor-Leste which could benefit from this form of help.
A strange tension between informality and regimentation permeated the camp.
In the cool of the early morning, groups start singing. Loudly. Early means 4:30am. The singing was good so I was able to roll over in my tiny tent and go back to sleep. By 5am sleep was no option. Driving rap music was broadcast across the entire site. Instructors lead hundreds in an aerobics session in front of the main stage. PermaScouts emphasizes the value of working together and help with a smile was never far away. The anxiety on both sides as I engaged in my first communal bathing experience soon waned as people got used to this overweight old malai splashing around.
On the formal side, the national flag is raised at sunrise. On day one this was combined with a 90 minute opening ceremony involving hundreds of scouts standing in formation. Shortly after this ceremony, Timor-Leste’s Director of Scouts arrived unannounced, though he had been invited, so another respectful ceremony was organised. The scouts assembled again and by now the sun was blazing. Only one fainted but the first aid tent was kept quite busy during the day. The flag was marched to the flag pole in a most disciplined manner. By the time the flag was lowered in the third ceremony at sunset, the scouts had been standing a total of four hours in formation. The formalities were much shorter on subsequent days and the closing ceremony involved everyone standing in a huge circle with a bonfire in the middle. After dinner, the dancing started and didn’t finish until 4am!
There were many admirable features to the camp.
A key objective for Ego is to bring young people together to make friends right across Timor-Leste, and learn some crucial skills to help build a healthy and vibrant nation. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and were all absorbed in the various activities.
There were training sessions covering disaster relief, water management, organic farming, land conservation, alternative technology, health, and much much more.
There were site visits to interesting local sites, including the cave where Xanana Gusmao spent over a year in hiding at the height of the resistance against the Indonesians.
In 2008 I was one of four international observers staying at the camp. This year there were about 15 internationals living in and as many again staying in Baucau and visiting each day. This included an important delegation from Victoria University guided by Dr Helen Hill. Ego was awarded his masters degree from Victoria University in 2011.
Music, and in particular, singing, is becoming inceasingly important at the camps, spurred on by the recent Koru Loriku tour to Melbourne in August to take part in the Mai Fali Eh concert series. Conductor Paulo Periera brought his own youth choir Mara Bia, which included Francelina Ramos, for several performances. Carlos Do Carmo and Mariana Soares were there with their music groups from Natarbora and Domingas Da Costa conducted a large choir from Aileu.
It was notable that in every aspect of running the camp, young women were involved in key roles.
The camp had its challenges which were exhausting for Ego and his team. That we knew very little of these difficulties during the camp is a testament to the dispute resolution skills employed by this very talented group.
A total of 1,200 were expected to attend the camp but there were no more than 800 on the site at any time. There were elaborate stalls prepared for 30 and only 6 were used.
Permascouts had been promoting this date for a year. Ego was hoping to have the president, the prime minister or at least a minister present for the opening or closing of the camp. In 2011 the president had been very generous with his time. The government, in one of their infuriating last minute decisions, organised a celebration of the centenary of the uprising of the people of Same against the Portuguese in 1912. Some suggest that the Same king was more interested in maintaining control of his slaves than the independence of his people. Ego said the government devoted $3million to the Same centenary. Every minister, head of department and a good proportion of the population were there. Not one government official witnessed the PermaScout Camp, a major contribution to the future of Timor-Leste, and not one government dollar was made available to help run it.
800 people require vast amounts of water for drinking and washing - 5 tanker loads a day was not enough and we kept running out. The price went up from $70 to $80 per tanker over the week - that's a total of $400 per day for water. Transporting everyone to Laga cost $5,000 each way. Food was provided for everyone there, though the scouts had to do their own cooking. The villagers who supplied food and cooked for the volunteers, quadrupled their price over the week. PermaScouts countered by supplying the food and employing the villagers only to cook and serve.
Ultimately it became clear that there was a revenue shortfall and on Wednesday night the decision was made to finish one day early, a wise decision which sends the right message in many directions.
The tension between the Scouts and Permaculture has made Ego question whether a name change is warranted - PermaYouth perhaps. Ego has run three national camps under the PermaScout banner, in contrast with the National Scouts who have not run any national camps in recent years. Most of those attending the camp were there because of Ego’s PermaScouts, not because of the National Scouts movement. Furthermore, the National Scouts have contributed little to the planning or running of the camp.
Ego, one of Timor-Leste’s most positive individuals, quickly recovered from his exhaustion and back in Dili greeted us all with that broad smile which tells us that all is well and Ego is onto the next great project. Ego is a remarkable man who draws hundreds of people into his inspired projects. Most of us know of him as a musician but another great passion is the environment and the people of Timor-Leste. The PermaScout Camp is where he brings it all together. Any help you can offer him would be greatly appreciated and put to good use.
Roger King, Paulo Pereira and Ego Lemos.