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Being part of the story

Journalist Danielle Parry makes a startling career change from television to community development.

Australian Volunteer Danielle Parry and her colleague Alau examine a Timor-Leste Red Cross vehicle.

Dancing the 'Timor two-step' with the chief of a tiny village in the districts of Timor-Leste is a world away from my regular job as a television journalist for the ABC.

But within a week of arriving in Dili for my one-year assignment as a communications adviser with Timor-Leste Red Cross, I was already out in the field, joining in celebrations for the handover of a new water and sanitation project near Baucau.

It was an honour to be part of the story for a change.

As a journalist I'm usually more of an observer, writing about what I see others doing. But in Haurobo, I was welcomed into the community to actually be part of a life-changing moment.

Haurobo is a poor hamlet of thatched huts on dry, rocky ground just five kilometres from Timor-Leste's second city, Baucau.

Despite its proximity to Baucau, the community has never had toilets or running water. Women and children in the village made a 10 km round-trip every day to get water from a natural spring. The walk took hours and stopped many local children from attending school.

Red Cross societies in Timor-Leste and Australia have been working to make that daily trek a thing of the past. Over the last year they laid water pipes from the main town reservoir to the village, as well as building latrines to reduce the spread of disease.

It was a privilege to see the difference Red Cross is making on the ground and to share this story with the people of Timor-Leste.

I was at the celebration in Haurobo to help the communications team at Timor-Leste Red Cross to manage media coverage of the event.

It was the first time the new communications office had invited the media to an event like this but they did a great job. Together we wrote media alerts and press releases and organised for television, radio and newspaper reporters to attend. There was a big media turnout and this important story got the coverage it deserved.

Communications is a new area for Timor-Leste Red Cross but my colleagues are very keen to learn and spread the word about the Red Cross' work. This event was an important 'early win' for my team and got everyone excited about the role they could play.

We have also been working on internal communications, creating official Red Cross email addresses for the first time and starting a new weekly internal newsletter called 'Cruzelha'.

There's no denying that the slower pace of work here has taken some getting used to after working in a busy newsroom with hourly deadlines back home. But I'm appreciating the extra time I have here to build relationships with my colleagues and learn about their country.

I'm proud of what we've achieved already and I can see improvements every day.

Danielle Parry is working in Timor-Leste through the Australian Volunteers for International Development program, supported by Australian Red Cross.

Photo: Susan Slattery