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Aleixo Santos is a naturally cheerful person keen to take the time to talk about Plan International’s work with EWB Australia’s Field Professionals, despite his hectic schedule managing the WASH program in Timor-Leste; a young nation working hard to overcome poor infrastructure and skills shortages following independence from Indonesia in 1999.

“EWB Australia Field Professionals support us with technical design, hydraulic design and surveys, and also with our organization’s capacity building. They give big support not only to our plans, but also with our government doing technical design, as we work with the Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Public Works. We also share the EWB work in Timor-Leste  with the rest of Plan International. But..” Aleixo says smiling, “they also get some learnings from us, so we compliment each other.”

Sharing new thinking and learnings across WASH and Sanitation in Challenging Environments is an important pathway for improved design, delivery and governance, especially in Timor-Leste where the engineering sector is still developing. Edmund Weking, Country Manager of WaterAid Timor-Leste, also a partner of EWB Australia’s, points out how they have had to respond to a dynamic sector. “Our approach to sanitation has changed,” he says “From gender and disability inclusion, to types of construction. I have also seen how things change when for example water management becomes national policy.”

Wateraid work with local implementing partners, and find skill sets are often variable so they work with Field Professionals to help local partners develop their technical skills. “Local partners have staff to deliver the technical things and construction, but at the same time they have limited skills and experience,” says Edmund “In Timor, engineering education is only recently developed, and there is a gap of human resources to enable the sectors deliver universal access to clean water and sanitation.”

Field Professionals are placed with NGO partners for 12 months and work alongside staff. WaterAid saw the advantages of this for their national team. “We saw there are some things we need to do with our staff to develop their skills, their knowledge, and their experience in practical areas that we are not really comfortable with. We need to shift our staff to start thinking about new approaches and new technologies that can help our partners. That is the other reason we work with EWB.”

John McGowan, Plan International’s WASH and Disaster Risk Reduction Program Manager also sees how much value Field Professionals bring to the team in-house. “There are quite a variety of skills field professionals instil in our Plan staff and partners,” says John “and Timor-Leste is a place where people are very thirsty to acquire these skills. EWB Field Professionals are flexible and adaptable, and come from a different perspective. They share different ways of viewing a problem, or designing water systems, or dealing with community issues. Part of it is technical and another is building relationships, and very importantly being an ambassador from the world outside of Timor-Leste, an ambassador for best practice.”

EWB Australia has a long standing relationship with Plan International, and in addition to placing 6 field professionals to work with staff and implementing partners, also runs an internship program with the organisation. “There aren’t that many places where a young engineer might be able to meet up with a mentor, so we have had two interns here. Silvano Jose Branco started out here as an intern and now he’s employed with Plan. He works very closely with Daniel Miller-Moran our Field Professional, and Daniel has been great in mentoring him.”

Tara Bartnik is currently a Field Professional on placement with WaterAid and she balances her time between upskilling implementing partners like Luta ba futuru (Fight for the Future) and supporting WaterAid staff such as Apolonia (Ania) Asteria Barreto, a WASH Engineering Specialist at WaterAid. “Luta ba futuru have a new technical staff member so they have asked me to train him how to use a spreadsheet for the hydraulic calculations for a new gravity water supply system,” says Tara “I will be supporting the WaterAid engineers to run this training with the partner staff in the future”

Edmund Weking really appreciates the benefit to the team of the onsite, consistent coaching and support afforded by Tara’s placement. “Someone is around and approachable, and having that experience and knowledge brings WaterAid staff elements of confidence, as you feel like the support is there, ongoing.” Edmund also points that the Field Professionals mobilize a “problem solving approach” in WaterAid that is “not just project related but captures the way we catalyse thinking through all our approaches” so that “we can identify room to improve but with someone helping us through that process.” Plan have also experienced this improvement cycle. “We built up our own systems in technical, in design, in the tools that we use, and they continue to be improved through successive Field Professionals.”

The skills and knowledge uplift across the Plan team In Timor-Leste has not gone unnoticed by John McGowan either. “The EWB field professionals have really helped Plan International in Timor-Leste bring safe water and sanitation to communities, and through their work have been able to instruct, mentor and coach our team so our programs have also gotten better. Our National Wash manager Alexio and staff have been able to raise up the level of professionalism in the way of thinking, approaching, and getting things done across the full spectrum of a project. With the Field Professionals’ skills and adaptability, Plan International has been able to do more than we would have been able to otherwise.”

With the inside advantage of EWB Australia Field Professionals, Plan International and WaterAid are mobilising the technical skills and knowledge that communities need. “We are here to support the Timorese to build Timor-Leste,” says John “We bring in different knowledge sets that can be useful, to give them confidence to move forward on their own.”