Former Army Warrant Officer Nick , considers the title Timor Awakening a most apt title for the 11 day experience he had in Timor in September 2016 . “ It was real awakening to me of the possibilities of healing. My partner has noticed a huge change in me since I came home. I’ve had the chance to put some demons behind. A huge thanks to the VCA team of Michael Stone, Gary Stone, Kirsten Wells, Bob Breen, Merryn Thomae and Wayne Smith who have facilitated this journey for us.”
Former AFP agent Mark says “ I have been able to purge an issue that has affected my life and career for the last 12 years since I served in Timor. This experience has resolved a major life issue, that years of counselling was unable to do.”
Programme Director and former infantry officer Michael Stone is quick to point out that an 11 day immersion experience in Timor is but a part of a 12 month journey of rehabilitation that The Veterans Care Association is offering Veterans and their families. “With funding primarily from RSL Qld, so far some 60 veterans and their families are benefitting from this new and unique rehabilitative offering. Participants undergo a 3 month work up period prior to the trip, receiving holistic health information and preparing themselves physically, mentally and spiritually for a serious re engagement with the experiences of their past. The Timor immersion takes them on a 4 wheel drive journey to most of the places Aussies have served in Timor from WW2 onwards. They stop, get briefed, reflect and contemplate their own experiences afresh.
The penultimate task of the trip is to develop a personal health and wellbeing plan for the future. After the immersion the veterans keep in contact through Facebook, and VCA staff facilitate regular gatherings and newsletters. Participant progress over the 12 months is monitored by Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation. We are a team of wounded healers- all veterans and RSL members ourselves, and we are delighted to be showcasing RSL QLD to all we come in contact with.”
Journeying through Timor is designed as a circuit breaker to help them re imagine their former experiences, get them in perspective , get closure and healing , and help them plan for a future life of hope and purpose, with a special intention of assisting in the veteran community.
Timor Awakening is open to any former service people and their partners in need of rehabilitation, irrespective of whether they have served overseas or not. Whilst someone who has served in Timor before will have particular opportunities to visit the places that may have been involved in their trauma, anyone coming on the programme will benefit from the experience . Former Navy nurse Kerrie, who had not served outside Australia, but was never the less traumatised by her service experience , is finding the programme particularly helpful in getting her into a health and wellbeing programme, where she is now taking self-responsibility for nurturing her body mind and soul , and getting involved in her local RSL sub branch.
RSL Qld President Stewart Cameron who has championed the project and assisted with seed funding for the first two programmes, has both wanted to offer Australian veterans a first class rehabilitative experience while at the same time , creating a vehicle to assist in development of an ex service organisation for Timorese veterans. More than 10,000 combat veterans of the 24 yr conflict with Indonesia are being spurred by the inspiration of our own veterans, to get themselves organised into a national organisation, that can offer support to their comrades who are struggling with life issues. Each Timor Awakening experience has involved an equal number of Timorese accompanying our Aussie vets around the country, as well as facilitated veteran gatherings in very town or village our groups have travelled to . It’s been a great source of pride for the Timorese to show their appreciation for the wonderful work our veterans did in helping this fledgling nation get established.
For our Aussie vets to hear the stories of the Timorese is inspirational. Their journey, as yet unrecognised formally, is now being recorded by VCA member and former Army Colonel and military historian Professor Bob Breen. Timorese first hand witnesses guide our vets through the many places of resistance struggles, from torturous prison cells and massacre sites, to jungle hideouts and places of successful attacks on their oppressors. They share their mantra of “to resist is to win” which sustained them in an indeterminate struggle. They also share of their unflinching hope in Gods deliverance when the odds were stacked against them.
More than being inspired by their resilience , all of our Aussie Vets have been touched deeply by the forgiveness, and desire for reconciliation that the Timorese have sought with their Indonesian neighbours.
Aussie vet Ralph, a former intelligence officer , knew more than most the background to their struggle. He has written, “Like a punch in the chest , I was jolted to contemplate how these men and women spent 24 years fighting for a freedom we take for granted. This insight put my own personal issue into perspective.
The trip is packed with many powerful images and memories for me – meeting HE Jose Ramos Horta, visiting Balibo and contemplating the murder of our journalists.but most significantly witnessing the resilience of the Timorese people to endure survive and triumph , and reconcile with their former enemy.”
The highlight of the trip for Army and AFP veteran Nick was to go back to the border with Indonesia ‘ I shook hands with an adversary… I never thought I could have , and I felt release of the anger I had kept, fading from my soul .. I let go and forgave the Indons for what they had done … I cried for hours afterwards, realising what anger I had stored up in my soul that had to be released . Through the Timor Awakening experience my growth as a veteran has exceed my expectations. So much pressure has been released from me. I’m grateful to my wife, the VCA and the RSL.”
Witnessing the reconciling spirit of the Timorese was moving for every Aussie vet. Army Veteran, Kevin said “Some of us could just could not believe that VCA had arranged to drive into Indonesia with Timorese and Australian flags flying to facilitate and witness former adversaries shaking hands and hugging each other. Most of us were brought tears – but tears of relief, joy and hope that we too can forgive those that have harmed us in the past and stop the pain we cause ourselves by not forgiving”.
Part of the VCA philosophy is that the veteran and the veteran’s family are integral to any rehabilitation. All VCA activities are open to all family members. VCA staff prefer to visit families together in their homes to share our holistic health and wellbeing model, and on our second Timor immersing four spouses of veterans came along with us. Spouse Nen said, “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have come here with (former RAAF and AFP) Andre and visit the places he served, but moreover to understand more fully no what he experienced. Together we are now able to plan a future that has health and wellbeing at its core”.
VCA had it’s one of its own doctors former Army RMO Merrin Thomae accompanying the trip, who provided health education and treatment support along with VCA psychiatric nurse Kirsten Wells. But independently VCA had Senior Clinician, Medical Doctor Catherine Henderson accompanying her partner George in September. George had been traumatised by a near fatal car accident on one of his four AFP deployments to Timor. In a letter to the RSL Board , Catherine stated; It is both my personal and professional opinion that the Timor Awakening programme is both medically and mentally beneficial to both the Australian and Timorese veterans and their communities. It is clearly a therapeutic programme that should be continued supported and expanded appropriately. Therapy techniques included mindfulness, individual counselling and pastoral care , group reflection and sharing , tutorials on stress, depression, alcohol addiction, relationships, meditation, yoga, cardio exercise , healthy living and improving sleep quality.
Moreover the veterans were encouraged and assisted to develop their own health and well-being programmes. All participants said the programme was excellent and would recommend it to others.
VCA founder and President, former infantry officer and now Chaplain Gary Stone, says, “ the key to Timor Awakening success is that it is veterans caring for veterans. We have assembled a comprehensive team of ex- service health professionals from every discipline, to provide guidance and insight into the benefits of holistic health-proactively nurturing bodies, minds, souls and relationships. On top of that we layer the experiences of veterans themselves, to share what has worked and what has not worked. We encourage them to care for each other as part of a community. On top of that we offer something unique and not offered in other programmes- we offer HOPE. We truly believe that God wants us to be healed and we pray for that too.
Details of the programme are at www.veteranscare.com.au