I am back in Newcastle (AU) to undertake a super exciting project documenting Newcastle.
After a bunch of assignments in Timor-Leste as well as a new photo essay I launched to coincide with the 10 year anniversary since independence Timor in progress, I am now back on Australian soil. I am in Newcastle to work on a super exciting commissioned project with the Newcastle University. For the next few weeks I am spending time documenting a range of the communities, cultures and sub-cultures that contribute to making Newcastle such a unique city.
Today I spent time with urban farmers as they identified and away through a food forest where every plant has something edible. I also followed a few surfers along Nobbys beach where I found a lone fisherman who after a good hour of conversation revealed he escaped from the Khmer rouge regime in Cambodia. Then later in the evening I spent time with Fode Mane and his west African drum and dance class. It is this type of diverse routine I am expecting for the next 2 weeks as I seek to visually explore Newcastle a city I have called home since I was 12.
I was lucky enough to find out last week I have been named a finalist of the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards for 2012, here is the link http://www.soya.com.au/entrants/10159637 to check out the page where you can like and share the page with friends on facebook and twitter.The power of social media in the last week has blown me away, after sharing with friends and family the page has jumped over 500 likes in less than a week.
How do we define progress?
I have attempted to answer this question on my long bumpy rides through Timor-Leste over the past few weeks.
Disclaimer: this is also my 5thdraft and still makes little sense.
According to my dictionary progress is defined as advance or development toward a better, more complete, or more modern condition. If we use this given definition to understand progress (which I am using interchangeably with development) then I believe it’s important to make clear the aim. Is it acquiring a pre-industrialised western standard of living in 1985 or somewhere in the digital midst of 2005? Even as I write this I remind myself that development is ever evolving, as are its goals. I am not sold that this carrot in front of the donkey down the old path of western industrialization is the right way, nor that it can keep up.
A common trend in development thought is the constant critique of previous methods of practice that are seen as outdated. The strength of such an approach at an academic level is that it develops critical minds that can continue to advance development research that can in turn ideally lead to new approaches to practices with more effectiveness. However my own divide between trying to entertain development on both an academic and practical level is leaving me increasingly confused.
Returning to Timor-Leste for my third trip a lot has changed, at least in Dili, but outside the capital it is hard to see progress. Dili’s roads are significantly more clogged than ever before. The most noticeable change is the current number of new SUV’s and utility vehicles that inhabit the capital. The traditional stereotype of a post conflict nation dotted with white 4wd’s bearing iNGO logos across the landscape is still the case but less so in comparison to private vehicles. This growth in new cars would leave one assuming the growth of the middle and upper classes as well as better resourced ministries must also extend to an upgrade in basic infrastructure. But in fact the roads outside Dili are worse, the Dili-Baucau trip that previously took two hours now takes three. Internet speeds are slower and phone calls more expensive.
I cant help but wonder what Isabella Dacavarhlo, a 35 year old mother of six and farmer from the village of Saelari (Laga sub-district of Baucau district) must think when she travels to visit her son who studies in Dili. I would like to know how she reconciles the change that she can see in her capital compared to her small village of Saelari. As a foreigner I can’t help but personally quantify development through those things I use internet, phone, roads etc. But Isabella like the majority of rural Timor must gauge this differently.
Finally, I do acknowledge that over the past three weeks I have met many individuals and families whose livelihoods have been positively impacted upon by a range of development projects. I will be blogging more about them in the coming weeks.