May 8 - 14, 2022: Issue 537


Judith Charnaud

2022 update

In 2019 Pittwater Online News ran a Profile of the Week about Warriewood resident Judy Charnaud. Judy has had an interesting and varied career including designing and implementing school and community education programs, working as a geologist with a large multi-national mining company, senior secondary science teaching and geology coordinator, costume maker for school musicals and Rock eisteddfods, community volunteer and bush regeneration work.

Travel to places such as India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and South America and outback Australia really broadened her mind then marriage and two children put a stop to her wanderlust for a while. In 1999, needing a break from teaching, Judy decided to volunteer with OzGREEN and the rest as they say is history! She has since been involved in projects such as “Kids, Companies, Creeks”, MyRiver, YouthLEAD and the Great Eastern Ranges biodiversity corridor. Judy has been a committed environmentalist for many years winning awards for environmental initiatives during her teaching career, acting as Streamwatch coordinator, being a founding member of the Narrabeen Lagoon Committee and now working in the field of overseas aid and development.

Since 2001 Judy has been Program Manager of the East Timor Project which has involved living and working in the enclave of Oecusse for seven months a year. The core of the project is Village Environmental Action Planning which is a community based, transformative learning program. Villagers are empowered to critically analyse their environment and livelihoods and design their unique, site specific vision to building a society which is socially and ecologically sustainable.

This week Judy has contacted us with an update, stating;

''After two long years of Covid lockdowns and closed international borders I am beginning to plan my return trip to Oecusse. I am excited but uncertain and a little intimidated at the thought of going back. Having spent so long away it is easy to remember the tough times – the derelict house, the dirt, the mosquitoes, ants, mice, scorpions and spiders which live with me, the heat, lack of clean water, bad roads, unreliable vehicle, poor communications, the noise … and then I remember the wonderful, smiling people, the joy of giving, the friendships, the cries of Mrs Judy, Mrs Judy which I know I will hear, the excitement of the Games and so on. OK maybe one more time!!!''

''GREENTL my NGO based in Timor Leste are very keen to run the Games again and already have plans in place. My problem as per usual is the need for funds, I have approximately $10,000 from donors which I can spend on the Games but will need more than that. If residents can help in any way it would be greatly appreciated. After 2 years without organised sport the young people of Oecusse will be super keen and I am sure we will get more than the usual number of teams!''

My first trip into Oecusse, in 2001, was via a UN Helicopter. Since then I have gone in via Hercules, barge, ferry, car and most recently via the RAEOA’s, (Oecusse Economic Region) Cessna.

This trip in will be with RAEOA’s Cessna as the border with Indonesia is still closed due to Covid and the ferry is out of action for repairs.''

''One of the things I have been doing in my spare time of Covid lockdowns and border closures (by the way who ever said that retirement was a quiet time???) is writing the book of my experiences in Timor Leste. I have far too much material as I have kept a diary, over the 20 years, writing a little or a lot each day! This means that when my memory fails on the details I have well over 3000 typed pages to skim through which turns out to be fascinating as odd bits and pieces I have forgotten crop up eg:

''Tuesday 17th March 2009

Welcome to another new day of peace and quiet in Oecusse, (ha ha) – it must be one of the noisiest places I have been in! Firstly the two roosters, which sleep in the tree outside my window welcomed the very early morning – about 5 am – with their crowing, each trying to outdo the other in terms of decibels. Then the human lung clearer started, how anyone hawks so loudly and deeply without their entire lung flying out and plopping onto the dirt I do not know. To add to that the motorbike which has to be revved up each morning for 30 minutes, the neighbourhood dogs which bark and growl at anything that moves and after yesterdays’ rain the frogs which just about break the sound barrier – they must be calling for mates as far away as Australia. Also the leaf raking, the women screeching, crying children, cackling hens and the background noise of waves breaking on the beach and the place is mayhem! 

By 8.30am I was exhausted and ready for a rest as by then, apart from listening to all the noise I had been visited twice by Goris, been to see Mrs Colo who somehow from way up in the mountains knew I was back in town so arrived down here yesterday, spoken to Julie who delivers my bread, fed Tango the dog which is surprisingly still alive and now completely toothless, visited Sela’s house and played with baby Anton, seen the other Anton, eaten breakfast and spoken to Zarus on the phone which resulted in me trying to find his sister who had actually gone to school already. I decided against my usual early morning swim as it does not get really light until about 7.15 and I am a little wary about swimming in semi dusk due to the presence of at least one crocodile in these waters!

The story of the crocodile goes something like this – in February a rather large crocodile arrived on the beach at the end of the main street. Apparently it was wounded so had probably been in a fight as it was the mating season. Anyway it sat on the beach for a few days even though Richard from the UN tried to tempt it back to sea with a few thumps from a large stick (Richard’s story. Eventually it headed a bit further up the beach where a rotting whale carcass became a feast and then once it had a bit of strength back it ate a dog which made the mistake of barking and obviously getting a little too close!! After this everyone decided that a crocodile on the beach was not such a good idea so they managed somehow to frighten it back to sea and it has not been seen since. Crocodiles are revered in Timor Leste so they are not be hurt in any way.”

Every time I flick through the diary I come across snippets like this plus of course pages and pages on the work we have done! I also have a large collection of photos. Originally I carried a camera and 40 or so rolls of film each trip, thank heavens that gave way to digital and I was left with a lot of scanning to do – hence the series of coming and going snaps! Time for some culling; I have over 12,000 digital photos on my computer!''

One of my favourite photos - what do you think they are discussing??. Photo: Judy Charnaud.

Let’s Talk Work

GREENTL has obviously been relatively quiet for the last two years what with Covid restrictions, floods, illness and the election. If all goes well and I do return to Oecusse by the end of May/early June we certainly have plenty to do. Luis and the team are excitedly planning for my return and to kickstart the program including:

  • the GREEN Games, reintroducing the marathon
  • build at least two fish ponds
  • plan for youth activities in schools
  • well rehabilitation
  • pumps for vegetable gardens
  • more bio-sand filtration units
  • finalise the composting toilet, parts of which were lost in the floods.

As long as Covid, dengue and the general mayhem of working in Oecusse go our way we will be busy!

I have some funding to get all this going but of course always need more!!! Rotary have started shipping pallets once again to Timor Leste. With Epping Rotary and Epping Boys High School I have a load ready to go – uniforms, boxes of school materials, laptop computers, work boots and such like.

Here I Go Again – Asking For Money For Education

“A child without education is like a bird without wings.” —Tibetan Proverb

“Education will raise our children out of poverty.” Village Leader, Oecusse

There are a lot of pressures on everyone at the moment – with floods, Covid, increasing food and fuel prices, environmental disasters and multiple NGOs asking for donations. I am another one - asking for a small donation to ensure that all GREENTL has planned can come to fruition and to help several students continue their education.

With help from several donors the following two students have enrolled in Tertiary education. Until they begin work in their chosen field they will need financial assistance.

Ima has enrolled and begun her studies in Health Education in the Oecusse branch of UNPAZ (Universidade da Paz). The course is 3 years and on completion Ima is guaranteed a nursing position in Oecusse.  She has enrolled, paid her first term fees, bought her uniform and a laptop computer. Over the next two and a half years she will need $900US for fees, $150 for uniforms, $50 for shoes, $300 for general costs such as backpack, pens, books, food etc. A total of $1400US ($1940Aus at current exchange rate) should cover her expenses. Ima is the first of her family to complete secondary education so to go on to Tertiary level is a great achievement!

Stephanie has enrolled in the School of Environmental Law, Catholic University of Dili. The course is 4 years, her fees are similar to Ima’s but add an extra year and extra equipment - $1600US ($2200Aus) should cover it.

Two younger students, Marlie and Liam, both in Primary school class 6, are covered until they leave Secondary school, thanks to a wonderful donor! I am also hoping to support Leonie, a very bright 7 year old who is in class 2 at Mahatta Primary School and Idri, Ima’s brother who is in Upper Secondary School in Palaban, Oecusse, who wants to study mechanics.

There are many others who need help in buying school equipment – I have several wonderful supporters including my niece Tara, (who has a namesake in Oecusse) and a group of friends who meet for a meal in a local restaurant each Friday night and drop a few coins in my “Oecusse purse”.

This all adds up and goes towards school needs for several children. Even though it should be, an education is certainly not free in Oecusse. The cost of uniforms, which are compulsory, students cannot sit their exams unless they are in uniform, is often prohibitive, especially for poor families from the outlying villages.

I want to set up an Education Account to put funds aside for future requests. It will not be hard to find students wanting to go onto Secondary or Higher Education but not having the wherewithal to do so.

Young people in Oecusse deserve a good education, and of course a healthy lifestyle to go with it.

If you would like to make a donation the following list gives you an idea where the money will go. Any donation is very much appreciated by myself, GREEN TL and the deserving people of Oecusse.

My Wish List. (On top of what I already have funded.)

  1. Funds to help students to continue their education; Any amount helps from $15 for a pair of shoes, $50 for a uniform to $150 for term fees.
  2. Extra funding for the Youth-in-Action GREEN Games 2022; The Games in 2019 cost over $30,000. After a hiatus of 2 years I expect these Games to be bigger! I am hoping for $10,000 on top of what I already have.
  3. Medallions for the Games; 400 individual pieces, $860 in total

Donations over $2 to the Sustainable Villages project are tax deductible:

Donate online by going to the Rotary Australia World Community Service, (RAWCS) website: (Sustainable Villages Oecusse)

Or via OzGREEN:   

OzGREEN was founded in 1992 by Sydney science teachers Colin and Sue Lennoxِ OzGREEN is an independent not-for-profit that operates nationally in Australia and overseas in South Asia, South-East Asia, Pacific, Latin America and East Timorِ Over the past 28 years, OzGREEN's award winning sustainability learning and leadership programs have involved hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

OzGREENٔs purpose is to:

  • build sustainable, resilient communities by enabling people to tackle the ecological and social challenges of our times and accelerate the transition to sustainability
  • Provide programs that energise and engage people to start the journey to sustainability

In Pittwater Online's 2019 Profile Newport's David Catchlove shared a few insights:

''I first heard Judy’s story at a dinner party, during which I remained riveted as her story unfolded.

It seems Judy spent most of her working life as a science teacher, which is how I happened to be at said dinner party, since my wife had taught with her at Cromer High School years ago. On leaving teaching at a relatively young age and feeling there was much left undone in her life, Judy volunteered to spend 5 months in East Timor setting up an environmental program for OzGREEN, an Australian NGO. This was not long after Indonesia had vacated East Timor after 25 years of despotic rule, leaving the place a blighted wasteland.

Judy certainly did not realise that an extraordinary 19 years in East Timor would follow. At the beginning of her initial 5 months stint in 2001, she was helicoptered into Oecusse, a remote East Timorese enclave, surrounded by Indonesian West Timor. Judy describes the scene of destruction and chaos left by the departing Indonesians. Buildings that had been sprayed with kerosene and burnt to the ground. Homes and all services destroyed. Men, women and children in a state of shock, their vacant eyes revealing the horror they had been through. 

Nevertheless, Judy set up home in Oecusse, in a destroyed house with appalling sanitation, polluted water and almost no electricity. For most of us, 5 months in such a hell-hole would be more than enough, but the experience was utterly mind-altering for Judy and she felt she had to return. So affected by the contrast between her own country and Timor, she describes how she entered a Woolworths supermarket on her return to Australia. 

“I stood at the entrance to the supermarket but I couldn’t enter. Those overflowing shelves, seeing food en masse in that way compared with the horrendous existence of our near neighbours in East Timor – it just made me break down and cry. “

Within a couple of months Judy was back in East Timor, in the same house in Oecusse. Over the following years, her attitude to the local Timorese has become one of profound respect and admiration. This is the third poorest country in the world after Yemen and Afghanistan, yet the people show determination and spirit, a warmth and generosity that has kept her coming back to East Timor.

She is now known locally as “Mrs Judy”. She has accomplished something that all the money of many NGO’s and foreign government bodies have often failed to accomplish, and that is, an effective dialogue with local people that has materially helped them without at any time letting them down. She has persisted year after year, solidifying her relationships and connections. 

While Judy’s work is many faceted, she concentrates on two basic areas. The first is to improve the quality of the water supply in remote hillside villages and the second is to foster community cohesion particularly in regards to young people, through the development of sporting activities in the region. 

She brings her scientific background to Timor’s unclean water problems. Judy talks about her approach as follows: 

“When Luis and I get to a new village, we talk with the locals about their village. Fortunately, I’ve been able to improve Luis’ English, and he’s taught me Tetum, the local language. We talk at length about their hopes and aspirations and what would help them. Most importantly, we ask them what they would want, and don’t try to push onto them our formula for improvement. (Luis is a local Timorese who is the Director of the NGO Judy set up in Oecusse)

“Invariably the water supply is an issue. As far as that’s concerned, we aim to install a water filtering system in each family’s house. I’ve studied sustainable water filter systems at length, looking at many models throughout the third world. By a happy co-incidence, our system appeals to local people because it is a sand filter that is cheap, easy to maintain and accords with local animism beliefs. You have to take any advantage on offer!”

In fact, Judy professes a strong affinity with animism, the view that animals, plants and the earth itself possess a spiritual quality. “It’s a connection with the landscape and these wonderful people I’ve begun to feel more and more the longer I stay here”, she says.

The regional annual sporting “Green Games”, is a sort of mini Oecusse Olympics set up by Judy, her staff and local volunteers and has gone a long way to enhancing community cohesion. There is much training and preparation for the events, held as soon as the wet season is over. “It boosts the confidence of our young people,” says Judy, “it costs us very little to put on with everyone pitching in and it is such fun.”

On her return trips to Australia, Judy is amazed that Australians know so little about this beautiful, but hopelessly flawed and poverty ridden neighbour less than 500 Km to our north.  Australians also know very little about Judy Charnaud who, living in the simplest of conditions, has shown an amazing degree of altruism, resourcefulness, empathy, intelligence and practicality.  

Surely a great Australian.''

Please make a donation to help these worthy, needy people if you can. GREEN Timor Leste can then distribute more bio-sand filtration units, provide pumps and piping for irrigating community vegetable gardens, give chickens and piglets to needy families and provide assistance for children to attend school. 

Youth-in-Action GREEN Games pre-Covid. Photo: Judy Charnaud.