I got my helmet back!

I was riding home from a joy ride to Liqudoe with Paolo on the weekend when I spotted my very precious stolen helmet! I was very very annoyed when this helmet was stolen and this frustration and anger bubbled out of me when I spotted the helmet on the street. I promptly locked up the back wheel in front of the Presidents Palace and the crowd assembled for the Independence celebrations. Dropped a U-Turn and roared off after the Helmet. I raced passed a truck load of transit police, over the canal on Comorro Road and finally caught up with the culprit outside Tiger Fuels. It was definitely my helmet, albeit with a few new stickers.

I hemmed the other bike rider behind a taxi and some other bikes and screamed at him to pull over, waving my left arm to tell him to pull over. He tried to duck around the inside of the taxi then the outside but luckily a parked car and myself kept him on the straight and narrow. More yelling and hand waving and with me guiding him to the gutter he pulled over.

He was riding a 125cc Yamaha motorbike but by no means looked rich or tough. His pillion passenger was a bit bigger but I hardly noticed him, he was grinning. I was making a scene and he looked pretty shocked. Still yelling, somehow some rational thought got through to my sub-conscious and after telling him that he was wearing my helmet which had been stolen 3 months before, I asked him where he bought it. Of course, he had bought it from a friend and it had cost him $60. I explained it was my helmet, showed him the Australian Standard sticker and demanded it back. He rather feebly said that he had paid $60 for it. I had paid $50 for the best helmet I could find in Timor, and I told him he could have it in exchange for my helmet. Amazingly, he accepted, I got my helmet back!.

At this point I calmed down a lot. Then, I explained that his ‘friend’ also had my gloves and that I would be willing (not really) to pay $10 for the other glove (read the full story on why I have one glove and his friend has one glover in this blog post). I gave them my number but never expected to hear from them. 

The next day they called me and wanted to meet. It seemed like they had the other glove. We arranged a meet and I gathered a ‘crew’ for the show-down. Paolo and James were back-up and we headed to Timor Plaza for the meet. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the gloved and just wanted another $10 because he had paid $60 for the helmet and I had only paid $50 for the one he ended up with. Fat chance.

When I re-tell this story I’m surprised at my own stupidity and the amygdala reaction to fight. I’ve never been in a fight in my life and I don’t harbour much frustration or anger normally. I’m not sure why this is different, but I guess the blatant act of crime right under my nose might have been the reason. I guess in some situations, you can never know what you would do until it happens.

Moral of the story: don’t buy stolen goods. if you don’t buy it, they wont steal it.

Sustainable Energy Program Update

The Good Return Sustainable Energy Program in Timor-Leste has been progressing in leaps, bounds and land-slides and has been both extremely challenging and very enjoyable.  It is now at the stage where it will begin to transition to Moris Rasik so they can continue to run with the program in the New Year.
The Extended Good Return Team in Timor-Leste
(L – R: Hamish, James, Guy, Damian, Paolo, Edy)
One of my first tasks on the program was to get the Memorandum of Understanding between Good Return, Mercy Corp and Moris Rasik signed. Progress on this task leaped ahead, with the initial drafts being vetted by Will Barron the Mercy Corp Energy 4 All Program Manager and myself. Then the drafts entered the review processed and land-slided for a while since the Mercy Corp Country Director was on leave for 6 weeks. Not to worry, there was plenty of other work to do! Rest assured, the MoU is signed!
Next was the need to determine which districts in Timor-Leste would be most appropriate for MR to focus on in the early days before expansion nationally. MR senior management feedback on the factors to assess was obtained quickly and easily at the regional manger meeting. Leap. This then necessitated a lot of running around trying to find information to assess these factors. The info should have been easily available but wasn’t. Landslide. An example was the Timore Leste Rural Electrification Master Plan (REMP). In the end even the Director General of the Secretaria de estado da politica energetica (Secretariat of state for energy policy) was calling me to try to get a copy of this report! Combined eventually with sunlight data from NASA, electricity coverage courtesy of UNDP and client data from Moris Rasik we nearly had all the information we needed.
Having identified the districts we thought would be good for business we needed to determine if the people in the districts we had selected wanted the products and could afford them. It took 3 weeks to get approval and arrange the trip with numerous Timor style reschedules. Landslide. Then ensured a week long motorbike journey into the districts of Ainaro and Manufahi, our top 2 rated districts. Bound. The trip revealed the reality – none of the 98 clients interviewed had access to grid electricity. Moris Rasik clients were spending on average $4 a week on candles and kerosene. The results of the energy needs assessment were over-whelming , clients wanted, needed and could afford the type of solar lighting products we wanted to give them. You can read all about this trip here and you can read the Energy Needs Assessment report here.
With the field set, all that remained was to develop a loan product specifically for the purchase of Solar products, a mechanism to ensure the clients would buy the solar product with the loan, create a distribution network and select some products, as per the business model below. Leap, Bound, Landslide, Repeat.
Working with the Operations Manager at Moris Rasik we sketched out the details of the loan product and started it on the path to approval. Not so bad. Then came the voucher system – on first go it was far to complicated and we started again, and then revised it again and again with Mercy Corp input. It looks beautiful now.  After a month of work these processes are sitting waiting for the right day to shine. They got their first glimpse of sunshine at the recently held Programma Ahi Baa Uma Information memo session in Maubesse.

The SRY101L, D-Light S250, Barefoot Firefly and Sundaya Ulitium

To get the ball rolling on the distribution network we met with a range of local businesses that focus on electronic products and carefully narrowed down the choice to 3. These 3 are our potential ‘Importadors’.
Product selection has proven to be a lot tougher.  We collected a range of Solar products form our 3 importadors and from internationally recognised sources such as Barefoot, D-light and Sundaya and consulted with Origin Energy to determine the best way of assessing the product for our purpose. Our partner Mercy Corp also sent a number of products away to be tested in detail as well as conducting some field testing. We decided to take the products on a road-show to see what clients thought of them, and you can read all about that in this blog post.

The Products charging
During this trip we also met with and interviewed clients and shop-keepers who are interested in becoming ‘District Distribuidors’. In Late Novemeber we will be returning to identify the ‘Ajente Sucos’ or Sales Agents for the areas as well. In the New Year, Moris Rasik and Mercy Corp will be bringing them all together to discuss how they will work together to supply and service solar lights in the regional areas of Timor Leste. 

Product Focus Sessions

Last week marked a turning point in the Good Return Sustainable Energy program in Timor-Leste. The transition of the project from Good Return hands to Moris Rasik management has begun, and it is an exciting time. 

 The PABU Team on the road!
This transition started during a week-long trip into the districts to conduct product focus sessions with Moris Rasik clients at centre meetings and to identify district based distributors that can bring the solar products from Dili into the Districts. The trip was conducted by the Moris Rasik Training and Product Development Research Officer, Carlos and myself,  Damian – the Good Return Sustainable Energy Program Manager (Timor-Leste). Thankfully this time we were travelling by 4WD rather than by my motorbike, like last time.
The trip had a gruelling schedule of 6am starts, with about 5 hours of travel per day on Timors notorious roads and as many hours of focus sessions and interviews with local shop owners. The response however was uplifting and over whelming – the solar home systems and solar lanterns we demonstrated were in high demand by clients and potential distributors alike! In addition, using the Moris Rasik network of over 12,000 clients nationally we were able to identify a number of existing clients and potential new clients who may be suitable distributors.

Meeting with a potential DD and his family in Maubesse
The trip took us through the steep and windy roads south of Dili into the district of Aileu, past the muddy road works and along mountain ridges to chilly Maubesse in the north corner of Ainaro district. Maubesse sits in a large cauldron surrounded by bald, grassy mountains and is one of the more beautiful spots to over-night in Timor. From Maubesse we crawled down steep switch-backs and headed south east into Manufahi district and eventually onto the rolling hills around Same.  Continuing from Same the next day we headed west in Hatu-Udo Sub-district for more centre meetings and focus sessions and then onto Ainaro. The following day was spent in Ainaro before we made the trek back up the mountains to Maubesse and back through Aileu to Dili.

 The windy mountain road from Ainaro to Maubesse. Kids walk a couple of hours a day to get to and from school
Along the way we stopped at the MR offices in Aileu, Maubesse, Same and Ainaro to provide training to staff on the responsibilities of the Sales Agents. We deviated from the main roads to visit centre meeting and conduct product focus sessions. In the town-ships we  visited with clients and well respected business people to identify potential distributors. These visits meant that multiple cups of Timor-Lestes national drink – coffee were enjoyed, gregarious and wide-eyed children were met.

The products on display to wide eyed kids

These kind of discussions in Timor tend to be quite lengthy. The Sustainable Energy Program / Programma Ahi Baa Uma (Light in the house) idea of building a sustainable business model and distribution network is a new concept by Western Standards and is not intrinsically understood in Timor. It is very interesting to watch the reaction of business people when they grasp the opportunity that this program presents to them – namely to manage and operate a network of sales agents selling solar powered lights on credit through the Moris Rasik network of clients.

The location of one of the product-focus sessions – 10 points for spotting the solar panel!

All in all the trip was very productive. By the end, Carlos was taking the lead with client interviews and product focus sessions and was extremely well versed in the mechanics of the program and the responsibilities of each of the actors. He is a natural networker and I’m sure he will do his best to ensure the transition of the program from the hands of Good Return to Moris Rasik goes as smoothly as it can in the unpredictable environment of Timor-Leste!


An met such an example of unpredictability on our return home . A giant tree that had fallen down across the only main road between Aileu and Dili. The emergency response team, the ‘Bombeiros’ as they are known were quickly on the scene but the single chain-saw they had couldn’t handle the multiple 1m think tree branch’s it was presented with. They were forced back to the ever-present, ever-ready, timeless machete with which to cut through this ancient tree.

MR training in Maubesse

The Programme Ahi Baa Uma ( PABU – Lit. Light for the house) Team, Training and Product Development Manager and Operations Manager journeyed out of Dili to Maubesse recently to providing training to all the staff from the Same, Maubesse, Ainaro and Aileu offices (known as the SAMALEU Region). 

The team left Dili and travelled the ~60km to Maubesse in about 3 hours. Arriving in mountainous and chilly Maubesse, in the Ainaro District at 9am the team assembled the staff and began to conduct the training on PABU, Client protection and Salary Loan changes.  Total staff travel time was about 30 hours for the approximate 30 staff in attendance, 10 from each district of Aileu, Manufahi and Ainaro. The commitment of staff to travel so far in adverse weather conditions and on Timorese roads on their scooters is testament to their desire to learn!

We were lucky that the Regional Manager had been able to secure emergency venue to conduct the training as the mother of the owner of the original training site had died the previous night and the previous site was now being used to house the extended family in preparations for her mothers burial.

The Training and Product Manager, Mr. Joao Magalhaes presented the new Client Protection policy based on the SMART Grameen methodology. This presentation gave the staff an over-view of how MR existing procedures meet the requirements of SMART and the additional procedures that need to be conducted to ensure compliance with SMART. The SMART Grameen methodology is designed to ensure MFI’s and MFI clients:
  • Avoid over-indebtness
  • Ensure pricing is transparent and responsible
  • Collect loan repayments appropriately
  • Behave ethically
  • follow mechanisms for complaint resolution
  • protect privacy

    The Operations Manager, Mr. Nimrod De La Pena presented in Tetum (His 4th Language!) updates on the Salary Loan program to staff and conducted exercises to ensure that the staff understood the implications of changes in the interest rate for salary loans and how balances will be affected by the changes.

    After Lunch the PABU team consisting of the Program Manager, Mr. Damian Fuller and the Research Officer, Carlos Mendonca presented the PABU information Memorandum to staff. This Memorandum explains the details of the PABU including:
    • Who is eligible for loans to purchase solar lighting products and who is eligible for loans to be Sales Agents or Distributors.
    • What the responsibilities of the Sales Agent, the District Distributor and Importer are
    • What the responsibilities of Moris Rasik staff are
    • The loan application and distribution process for Consumers and Sales Agents.

    A PDF version of the Information memo is attached here.

      The team also conducted some role-play exercises for staff where they had to determine if their colleagues were eligible to receive loans under the program. Finally, the solar products were demonstrated to great effect in the gathering gloom of rain clouds. In fact, most of the solar products had to employed during the training to provide sufficient light for staff to read the materials, as electricity is unavailable in Maubesse during the day!

      After a full day of training the team arrived home in Dili about 8pm.

      Nomad – Iron Maiden

      A friend dedicated this song to me and I’m quite pleased! Thanks Roni.

      Nomad by Iron Maiden

      Like a mirage riding on the desert sand
      Like a vision floating with the desert wind
      Know the secret of the ancient desert lands
      You are the keeper of the mystery in your hands

      Nomad, rider of the ancient east
      Nomad, rider that men know the least
      Nomad, where you come from no one knows
      Nomad, where you go to no one tells

      Undercover of the veil of your disguise
      The men that fear you are the ones that you despise
      No ones certain what your future will behold
      You’re a legend your own story will be told

      Nomad, rider of the ancient east
      Nomad, rider that men know the least
      Nomad, where you come from no one knows
      Nomad, where you go to no one tells

      No one dares to even look or glance your way
      Your reputation goes before you they all say
      Like a spirit that can disappear at will
      many claim of things but no ones seen you kill

      Nomad, your the rider so mysterious
      Nomad, your the spirit men fear in us
      Nomad, your the rider of the desert sands
      No man’s ever understood your genius

      Those who see you in horizon desert sun
      Those who fear your reputation hide or run
      You send before you a mystique that’s all your own
      Your silhouette is like a statue carved in stone

      Nomad, your the rider so mysterious
      Nomad, your the spirit men fear in us
      Nomad, your the rider of the desert sands
      No man’s ever understood your genius

      Legend has it you speak an ancient tounge
      But no ones spoke to you and lived to tell the tale
      Some say that you have killed a hundred men
      Others say that you have died and lived again

      Nomad, your the rider so mysterious
      Nomad, your the spirit men fear in us
      Nomad, your the rider of the desert sands
      No man’s ever understood your genius