Director of operations for Earth Trails Expeditions - Mick Stuth had an interesting introduction to Timor-Leste as part of a civil-military liaison role for the Australian Defence Force in 2003. Since that “eye-opening” operation, his connection and love for the people of Timor-Leste has opened up a trekking concept that involves leading a challenging traverse from one side of the country to the other, combined with an initiative to raise funds for an important cause.
From the moment I arrived in Timor-Leste in 2003, I felt a great sense of fragility mixed with a dash of optimism while talking with these beautiful people coming out of a tumultuous period.
While most of my colleagues felt that this was a six-month operation where the objective must be achieved, I felt that this was an opportunity to get to know the locals and try to understand the great disparity I was witnessing on a grand scale. It’s fair to say that there was an element of “culture shock” as I peered into the lives of simplicity, but with a raw history that had endless economic and social complexities.
The local stories of resistance, brutality, helplessness from characters with faces of resilience and pride have sat with me as I try to comprehend what has actually occurred through years of occupation. Through that experience my heart felt burdened and I promised myself that I would one day come back to this new nation to assist the local communities in some way that adds true value.
After an amazing visit with my young family, a refresher on Tetum-Praca and a catch-up with my great friend and local interpreter from 2003, the decision to organise a trek from the North to the South side of the island came into fruition after a casual chat with Manny Napoleon, a local eco-tour operator in Dili. A group trek would surely inject funds into the economy, but it alone would not harness the kind of value I wanted to bring.
Being a paramedic back home, my passion for healthcare is strong and what better way to support the young hearts of Timor-Leste by raising funds for East Timor Hearts Fund, an Australian-based organisation that provides life-saving heart surgery in Australia for young East Timorese.
Rheumatic fever, the cause of many of the heart problems experienced by East Timor Hearts Fund’s patients, works its way through communities in Timor. It causes crippling heart failure in young people leaving them breathless, lethargic and unable to contribute to their community in any meaningful way. To see children gasping for air lying helpless unable to do what other children do at that age is heart-breaking and if there is a relatively simple prevention and cure for this condition, why wouldn’t we support it?
Earth Trails Expeditions was born to help bring people to alternative destinations around the world, experiencing each location in its true rawness while injecting vital fundraising into key local initiatives. Earth Trails partner Steve Whitfield and I have been to Timor-Leste multiple times identifying its cultural, geographical and historical value as incredibly unique.
We have named the hiking challenge to benefit East Timor Hearts Fund the Trans-Timor Trek, and up to 15 participants will take in the 13 day journey, in July-August 2017. Manny’s local team will provide logistics and support for the mountainous deployment that includes a summit attempt on Mt Ramelau, East Timor’s highest peak. Each participant will individually fundraise prior to setting off in support of East Timor Hearts Fund.
With plans to become a yearly event, the team at Earth Trails hope that the Trans-Timor Trek brings something special to the participants, but more importantly something critical for the young hearts of Timor-Leste.
I hope you will join me on what promises to be an incredible journey.