Learning together in Timor-Leste
6 August 2013
Staff and students from the faculties of Agriculture and Environment, Education and Social Work, and Sydney Medical School have experienced first-hand how interdisciplinary collaboration is critical in tackling global challenges such as food security, thanks to a pilot program in Timor-Leste coordinated by the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC).
The nine students, three from each faculty, spent a week rotating through placements in a clinic, primary school and farm in the community of Maubisse. They took part in activities such as measuring children's arms to see if they were underweight, instructing children on healthy eating and assessing food production and distribution systems. In the evenings the group came together with academic supervisors to reflect on what they had learned - and the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration.
"This experience has equipped me with tools that'll enable me to teach in communities all around the world," said primary education student Paris Esposito. "The opportunity to work alongside medicine and agriculture students enabled inter-professional conversations that were rich, but also at times confronting."
Honours student in agricultural economics, Adam Briggs, said the experience would have significant personal and professional benefits.
"My time here has allowed me to appreciate the importance of interactions across a range of disciplines to achieve a balanced and well-considered 'solution," he said.
The Maubisse field trip was part of the 'Aprende Hamutuk' (Learn together) program - a one-month staff and student mobility pilot supported by federal government funding obtained by SSEAC.
Dr Damien Field, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, said the interdisciplinary week had an immediate effect on students' understanding of food security.
"By being able to make these interdisciplinary links while in the field, students can re-evaluate their ideas, be reflexive rather than reflective."
"I took away from my agriculture colleague a new framework for thinking about food security. I found out new things about the education sector in Timor-Leste that I had not known despite six years of working in this country. I also learned how similar the challenges are in the education sector and in the health sector - particularly in human resource development and the need to strengthen systems."
Aprende Hamutuk is a month-long pilot program that will conclude in early August. As well as taking part in the Maubisse interdisciplinary project, the Sydney students and staff are also engaging in joint teaching and supervision with activities with the Universidade Nacional Timor Leste (UNTL) and undertaking placements in NGOs, schools and clinics.
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