Here is a guest post from Rosemary about the life of a young Timorese man called Charles. He works at Fongtil, an umbrella organisation for NGOs here in Dili, and our partner organisation for the Dili Village Telco project. Over the past few years we have met Charles on each of our visits and become good friends. His life is typical of a hard working person in the developing world who is seeking to improve life for himself and his family. I find it fascinating how a geeky project like the Village Telco can touch and maybe improve the lives of people here in the developing world. Over to Rosemary……
Let me introduce you to an enthusiastic yet modest fellow who works at NGO Forum (Timorese acronym Fongtil). His name is Carlito but likes to be called Charles. Charles earns $100 a month and sleeps on the cement floors of the Fongtil building.
His duties at Fongtil are reception and “person friday” (odd job man). Keep in mind that offices in Timor do not run like the busy hectic offices of the western world. On a typical day Charles may welcome in a dozen visitors to the centre, then do odd jobs like finding cables and repairing Fongtil computers. He has been involved in many Mesh Potato installations across Dili, as he has excellent climbing skills.
Today I asked if he’d take me to the ANZ bank. On our walk to the bank he mentioned how his pay also goes into the ANZ bank but he never takes any out. His parents have access to the money and it supports his family who live in a village 20 minutes away. I ask him if the money is enough for all his family and he affirms that yes it pays for all the food. “What about you how do you eat if you take no money?” “I eat some rice everyday, I have some money for this”, he replies.
An interesting contrast is that Charles has a $200 mobile phone. It’s better than mine. Mobile phones are a status symbol here. However he rarely makes calls on it.
It’s a sweaty 35C and 100% humidity as we walk, usual for here. As we walk along rough footpaths and over dry creeks and negotiate our way through the “anything goes” traffic he tells me the Mesh Potato is very good for Timor. I ask him why? “It is no cost for phone call and makes things better for us.” Does it make a difference? “Yes, yes it makes a difference, TT (the local Telco) too much for us. The cost comes down. Mesh potato is important for information. Everybody wants one even my mother wants one and people will pay to have it.”
Charles has no university training but completed all years of primary and secondary school. “This is free for the people and times were difficult so it was better to stay in school and get education.” At Fongtil he attends all the training courses that are on offer. His English has much improved from our last visit here, less than a year ago. He would love to go to Uni and learn more English to improve his work opportunities but University costs money here so it’s unlikely.
As we continue back towards the forum office we chat about life and he interjects with “here is good for Mesh Potato” and points to a lone standing mast across the road. I found it interesting that he now scouts the area for potential Mesh Potato instillations. It demonstrates his keenness and belief in the project. He tells me he likes to help Lemi to put up Mesh Potato and wants to do some more. He is very happy to do this job and likes working at Fongtil as he has opportunities and experiences he wouldn’t have otherwise – a wonderful side effect of the Village Telco project.