Subject: Local Portuguese helping a nation to help itself

Macau Daily Times

Local Portuguese helping a nation to help itself

Monday, 17 March 2008

by Sara Farr

The idea is simple, to build a community centre where locals will be able to learn how to be self-sufficient with their own natural resources.

The when, where and how is what made four young local Portuguese seek support from local entities in Macau.

Speaking with the Macau Daily Times, Fernando Madeira and Hugo Oliveira, two of the four who will be travelling to Baucau in East Timor this coming July, said the group had already carried out phase one of the project.

"We went there [to Baucau] to evaluate, to see whether or not our project made sense and to see in which way we'd be useful to the East Timorese community," Fernando said.

Without actually visiting the area, the four friends found it difficult to "feel the land," and even though they had established contacts with an East Timorese non-government organisation 'Permatil' that also promotes permaculture in the island country.

Permaculture comes from the words "permanent" and "culture" as well as "permanent" and "agriculture"

The term was "invented" by two Australians, Bill Mollison and Davivd Holmgren, and can mean "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture."

The concept is easy to grasp, designing human settlements for the development of agricultural systems, using natural resources so that communities can be self sufficient.

In the mid 1970s, David Holmgren developed 12 design principles for permaculture. The first of which is to "observe and interact," which is what the four young locals went to Baucau in East Timor to do. To observe, interact and get to know the field where they plan on living for at least six months.

The next steps are to "catch and store energy," "obtain a yield," "apply self-regulation and accept feedback," "use and value renewable resources and services," "produce no waste," "design from patterns to details," "integrate rather than segregate," "use small and slow solutions," "use and value diversity," "use edges and value marginal," and "creatively use and respond to change."

The group of four friends have estimated it will cost some 360,000 patacas for the project to be successful, and have already asked for assistance from local and governmental entities in Macau, however are still waiting on a response.

'Permatil' is also working with scouts, which is a positive sign, Fernando said, adding that it only goes to show that there are people in the country that are interested in learning about applied permaculture and watershed restoration, as well as on how to become self sufficient with their own natural resources.

"It's important to work with the country's youth. The scouts have shown an interest in helping us and our project," Hugo then added.

A community centre will be the main focus where the four young friends will teach Baucau's communities useful things that can be used around the house, such as how to capture and re-use rain water, in order to maximise resources and minimise waste.

As to whether the people in Baucau will embrace such act of kindness "depends on how we approach things when we're there," Hugo said.

"We're not forcing anyone. We don't want to make anyone do this. I am sure we will also have a lot to learn from them."

The community centre will be a place for the people, where they can apply their own initiatives, and their own experiences, Fernando added.

"We are only aiming for them to value what they already have, because they have been subjected to a western reality and underestimating what they already know, such as agricultural techniques and hand-craftsmanship."

For that, the group of friends has already contacted with Caritas in East Timor, who have said they are willing to help with the project and hold a few seminars on medicinal plants and more.

"We want locals to feel the space is theirs. That this [project] has a community spirit, a space which they [locals] can use at their own will," Hugo said.

Although East Timor isn't the only country in the world that needs help, and although the fact that Portuguese is the nation's official language helps, the island country was the most appropriate for the four "because it was open [to receiving help]," Fernando said.

"Because there is hope in a country that has everything it needs to be sustainable. We will only show that development can be achieved without wasting what is good and valuable."

The country is almost 80 per cent organic, with vast lands available for East Timor to become a sustainable and self reliant country.

"Our contribution is so that this can continue," Hugo added.

The project is expected to last some six months, however, the four friends aren't setting return dates yet, because the aim of their project is continuity, to assure that once they leave, the community centre will be able to continue running and East Timorese continue using it as their own place for learning and activities.

Fernando said the group is looking at leaving the SAR sometime in July, but aim to return in October for the Lusofonia Festival, so that they can share a small place in the East Timor booth in order to show locals and sponsors the work they have done so far.

Volunteers are welcome to join the group of friends in their charity and community work in the island nation, according to Fernando.

The group have their own blog (, but although it is in Portuguese, anyone wanting to know more about the project or even becoming involved should send and email to the group (

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