Monday, August 11, 2008

Melaka Trip '08 – Day 01 : Timor Leste Children Shelter, Melaka

Photo Credits :

Some times in the face of adversity, it only takes a measure of kindness to change the lives of so many people. This was the lesson that I was reminded of on the day that we took time out of our fast becoming gastronomic tour of Melaka to stop by a nearby shelter for some of the children displaced by the internal strive in Timor Leste.

This side trip was never really in out initial itinerary but when one of the gang mentioned it during our lunch after arriving in Melaka, everyone thought that it was an intriguing way to better spend our first afternoon there. Once we finished our sizable lunch spread, we proceeded in our convoy of cars to the shelter currently housed in a section of the Sekolah Kebangsaan Convent Jesus Infant at Jalan Parameswara, Melaka. Once there, we were met by Lala Noronha who was the children’s guardian at the shelter who warmly welcomed our visit and took us to meet the children. Before we did that, we brought up the used reading materials and exercise books that one of us had brought with them to give to the children per an earlier request.

(L: The school where the shelter was located, R: Some of the children with Lala)

(Lala Naronha, guardian for the shelter)

We were led up to the second floor above the chapel space where the shelter was located and introduced to some of the children who made the shelter their home. These children were originally were from Timor Leste where they were displaced after their parents were killed during the internal conflict in the days leading to Timor Leste’s independence in 2002. According to Lala, who was a journalist covering the conflict during that time period, these children as young as 2 year old were found wondering the streets unaccompanied countless miles from their villages where they had lived before the conflict destroyed their families. Some of these children were severely traumatized as some of them had witness first hand the atrocities visited on their parents. With the scant resources available, there were not many avenues that these children could take shelter.

Lala was one of the people who took note of these children’s condition and decided to do something about it. With the help of the Australian soldiers who were part of the UN peacekeeping force deployed in Timor Leste, they built a small shelter to house these displaced children in a safe environment where there would be protected by the conflict that was still raging around them. Our very own Malaysian Royal Armed forces who participated in the peacekeeping efforts during that time also lent them a hand to protect the shelter from roving bands of bandits who threaten the peace in the area. Our Malaysian peacekeepers were later rotated out and replaced by the Malaysian Police Force who continued to lend a hand to the shelter.

Not only did our armed forces there provided the shelter with necessary protection, they also provided medical assistance considering that many of the children at the shelter were very sick with several life threatening aliments. Tuberculosis, hepatitis and scoliosis were just a few of the aliments that these children were living with which with the limited medical resources available to them during those uncertain times threaten to worsen with time. Our Army medical personal did what they could do for most of them but those who were in serious condition had to be airlifted to better medical facilities for treatment. With the permission of the Timor Leste administration, some of the children were flown to Malaysia to get medical treatment in our local hospital. These are the children who currently reside in the shelter at Melaka today.

Many are still recovering from their treatment and still need to visit the hospital for follow up procedures. While these children are here, they were also enrolled in a local vocational training center for them to pick up the necessary skills that they would need to fend for themselves once they can return to their home country. While they are guest in our country, they are being looked after by Lala with the help of public contributions from private sponsors funneled through the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul - Melaka State Council Project Fund and from the sale of their own homemade handicraft made by the children in their spare time. Most of the money they receive goes towards the medical treatments of the children as well as to medical visa renewals that they have to pay every 6 months.

(Some of the handmade items made by the children - soap, candleholders & decorative boxes for sale)

During our time we were there, we got to interact with the children and found them to be very thankful for this opportuinity which for some was nothing less than life saving. They got an opportuinity to be educated while they are here, although not in a normal school like the other children of there age, in a proper educational environment which they might not get to do so back in their own country. The children however do worry about the other less fortunate children from their shelter back in Timor Leste who were barred from leaving the country to come to Malaysia for medical treatment thanks to the ongoing bureaucracy wrangling over the guardianship of these children. They know that they are the more fortunate ones and realize that one day they will have to return to Timor Leste to help the ones they had to leave behind to the best of their abilities. To think that such responsibilities were being shouldered by one so young and had gone through such upheavals in their lives was nothing less than an eye opening experience for me.

As we toured the shelter, it was clear to us that the children were well looked after and had fairly well provided modest accommodations. They have a small library as well as a few donated computers with internet connection where they could reach out to their friends and remaining family back home as well as around the world through their own written blog which is reachable at Their monthly groceries were mostly provided by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul - Melaka State Council Project Fund as well as contribution from the surrounding population. While their basic necessities were currently met, they do still need some funds to pay for traveling and medical cost for the treatment that the children still need before they could get better.

(Surrounding scenes at the shelter)

For accounting reasons, the shelter cannot accept funds directly from the public but interested parties could send monetary contribution on their behalf through the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul - SSVP Melaka State Council Project Fund at the Melaka Public Bank Branch (Acct. No. 3142447201). They do welcome donation of items like exercise books and food items like Milo drink mix which to them are considered luxury items that the children would appreciate. I would definitely recommend interested parties to contact Lala Noronha directly at to find out what items that the children would need. They also welcome visitors to the shelter to see for themselves how these children live and how we can help them. Sharing their stories was definitely an eye opening experience for me and reminded me how fortunate we were to be living in a relatively conflict free country that we do. For some of the group, it was also an enlightening experience to find out how much our armed and police forces make a difference when they were deployed overseas during UN peacekeeping efforts. With all the bad press that they sometime received, the outreach work that both branches do to the community around them have been too easily dismissed when they should be highlighted.

We left the shelter with new found awareness of the children’s plight and a pledge to return back with an oven toaster that they requested as the one that they had before has broken down. It was not much but it was something that the children would appreciate having. On my part, I promised them to write up a blog entry about them in hopes that their story gets told to those who come visiting to this blog and may be in the position to help them. When we have so much, it does the soul good to give back what we can to the less fortunate than us.

* Thanks to Teck and Edwin for giving us all on the trip an opportuinity to give back these children.

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