So my time here in Timor-Leste has been quietly fraught with politics and bureaucracy. Not in an extremely overt way, but the troubles of establishing order have influenced the work I've done from time to time. I'll back up though. I've been working on establishing a monitoring system (consisting, right now, of a three part questionnaire) to evaluate knowledge gained and attitudes toward the church health messages program. As I mentioned in my last post, the church health messages were conceived as a way to reach the Timorese in a way that the formal health care sector does not. So these church health messages are read by catechists after the mass is over, and the hope is that people will be able to pick up a few helpful tips for healthier living. It doesn't turn out as well as people had hoped though. On holidays, messages aren't shared. Sometimes the messages aren't read when the mass is too long and people are tired and itching to get back home to cook for their families. And this is all understandable. It's an ambitious project. The reasoning behind it was that any kind of reinforcement of health practices would be positive for the overall health of the Timorese people. So the USAID project I work with, TAIS, does all of their work through the Ministry of Health. Everything that is done is done through the Ministry of Health to build capacity and increase the range and scope of Ministry of Health activities. While this sounds great in practice, oftentimes this simply means that everything that the USAID project does, the Ministry of Health claims as their own work. This is the case of the Church Health Messages. TAIS wrote a booklet to be distributed, but the Church Health Messages remain an official Ministry project, so the Ministry remains interested in what goes on with the messages. Unfortunately, until I came, no one was officially in charge of monitoring the messages. TAIS was simply swamped with all of their other projects, and I'm sure the Ministry was busy too. So here I am, as an intern for the summer, developing the first monitoring system ever for an official Ministry of Health sponsored health promotion program. That seems a little far-fetched to me, but one of my coworkers thought that this might be the case. It now feels like a much larger deal than what I originally thought it might be! In any case, monitoring is sorely need - Implementation across the targeted areas is uneven. Some places have heard these messages for over a year, and others, not at all. I was brought to develop an understanding of the catechists' and people's attitudes toward the messages and to understand what, or if, people are learning from them. Then I hope to see where things can be fixed. So I spent a long time working on my questionnaire, I'd sent it around to quite a few people, and it was time to pre-test it. I had to make sure the question flow and Tetun wording was alright so it was good to go when I went out into the districts for real. I took a trip to Manatuto, a town about 60 km and 2 hours outside of Dili. The drive took me along shimmering waters in 10 shades of blue and wonderful mountain views and roads, coupled with rice paddies. Many people have remarked that once Timor-Leste is discovered by the tourism industry, people will surely flock here. The visit, unfortunately, wasn't going to be as hopeful as I had hoped. They key to making all of this work - PLANNING! I had been couped up in the Dili office for awhile, so when my boss had mentioned that I would be able to go out later that day to Manatuto, I said yes immediately. This gave me very little time to pack for the next few days. It gave me even less time to plan. The health promotion staff I went with were helpful - we met with the catechist in Manatuto town, she filled out a survey. She mentioned that we might come back to the Manatuto church around 5 pm that day - there would be a parents' meeting. There we would be able to talk to more people.
We weren't prepared to do oral interviews though. I only had one health staff with me. Some of the women were illiterate and couldn't read the surveys. Others seemed a little confused. They were all a little anxious - they had a taxi waiting for them and they wanted to get home. They promised to return the surveys the next day, but when we went to collect them, no one showed up. I ended up getting two surveys from the whole trip to Manatuto. The trip to Manatuto was frustrating, for sure, but I'm about to embark on a July filled with monitoring. Thankfully, a lot of planning has gone into it this time. I've got three translators who are helping me out. They'll be reading the questions to the interviewees and the catechists. There will also be one of the health promotion officers who works for both TAIS and the Ministry of Health coming with me. He'll be able to meet with the catechists and develop links with the Baucau District Public Health Office. He was also the one who traveled around the country, implementing the Church Health Messages, so he has the best working knowledge of how the messages are working out. And just to make it bureaucratic and official, someone from the Ministry of Health will be tagging along. Apparently the Ministry of Health becomes much more attached to projects when one of their own comes along on trips like these. So this group of 6, plus our driver, will head out tomorrow to Baucau, the second largest city in Timor-Leste, about a 4 hour drive away. I hope to take a lot of pictures and start to gain a real, working understanding of health knowledge and the role of the church here in Timor-Leste. Also on my agenda for July are monitoring trips to Manatuto and Oecusse. And just for good measure, here's a picture from Dili: