Who is Ego Lemos?
Ego Lemos works as the National Adviser on Curriculum Development for Basic Education on Arts & Culture and Permaculture School Gardens, for the Ministry of Education of Timor-Leste. He is also a lecturer in Sustainable Agriculture and Public Arts & Culture at the University of Timor-Letse. He has received several international awards for his national contribution to music, art & culture and community development.
Ego is the founder-coordinator of the Sustainable Agriculture Network and Organic Agriculture Movement in Timor-Letse. He is also the founder-coordinator of Permaculture Timor-Letse (PERMATIL), as well as the founder-counselor of PERMASCOUT and PERMA-YOUTH movements.
He co-authored ‘Permaculture Gardens for Kids’ produced by PERMATIL, and ‘A Tropical Permaculture Guidebook’ (www.permaculture guidebook.org). He is sole author of the ‘Training Manual for Agro-biodiversity in Timor-Leste (GIZ-AMBERO) and National Curriculum for Basic Education Grad 1 – 6 (Min of Edn).
Ego holds a Diploma of Permaculture Design (Permaculture Institute of Australia) and certificates in Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (MDF Pacfic-Indonesia Consultancy) and Integrating Nutrition in Primary Education Curriculum (FAO). His Ted Talk: Ego Lemos/TEDxDili ‘School Gardening to Tackle Malnutrition’ illustrates why embodying permaculture within the school curriculum is so important.
– Biography taken from APC14 speaker schedule
So that’s his biography – but what’s his background?
Ego was 3 years old in 1975 when Indonesia invaded Timor Leste. His family fled to the jungle where they hid for several years surviving on whatever they could find. His father was captured and never seen again. His younger sister died of starvation. After 3 years the family were rounded up with others hiding in the jungle in the South of Timor and taken back to Dili. Shortly after his younger brother died after contracting diarrhea due to the change in diet and processed food they were given. Ego has great admiration for his mother for how hard she worked to find food for her children and the support she has always given him. His mother, a keen and skilled harmonica player, was also his inspiration for becoming a musician.
Once in Dili, at the age of 8 he commenced pre-school. He initially struggled at school as it was taught in Bahasa Indonesian which, at that time, he didn’t speak and as such he failed first grade. However he persevered and finished school, then studied agriculture at university in Dili.
Ego became involved in a student movement concerned with environmental issues such as deforestation, water, increased use of fertilisers etc, and in 1997 he established the Organic Agricultural Movement movement in Timor Leste. He strongly believed that the large scale agriculture he studied was irrelevant to the reality of small-scale subsistence farming in his country.
After Timor won its independence by referendum in 1999, Australian permaculturalist Steve Grant introduced permaculture to Timor. For Ego, who had never before heard of permaculture, it was like an ‘angel came to meet him’. Although Ego had very little English at that time, he became Steve’s interpreter and soon fell in love with permaculture. Steve and Ego started running permaculture design courses across Timor and trained many people.
In April 2002, Ego received an envelope and was surprised to find in it a Diploma in Permaculture from Bill Mollison.
When Steve eventually left Timor he said to Ego ‘You carry on’. Ego then formed Permaculture Timor – or Permatil. He didn’t want to establish a formal institute where Timorese would have to travel to the capital to complete a formal PDC but instead travelled around the country on his motorbike (and carrying his guitar) teaching permaculture – but he had no funds.
In 2005 the Irish government gave him some funds for his work – this was the first time he’d received a salary.
Ego wanted the people to become less reliant on external inputs and saw the value in small scale agriculture but the Timor Leste government wanted large scale agriculture. They wouldn’t listen to Ego because he didn’t have a formal degree.
Ego then won one of only 2 scholarships worldwide from the Irish government and came to Australia to study Community Development at Victoria Uni. (Although his time in Australia was valuable for other reasons, the degree didn’t really add much to the community development knowledge he’d gained from his years of working with his people. He completed only to gain the ear of government.) When he returned to Timor in 2010 the government started to listen.
He began working as a lecturer at university in Dili and in 2013 got a job with the Education Department re-writing the national primary school curriculum. This gave him the opportunity to work with others with similar dreams. Ego was in charge of curriculum writing for Arts and Culture – as well as music, public art etc. He managed to incorporate permaculture and cuisine so that in 2015, permaculture was formally included in the primary school national curriculum. This took considerable lobbying but Ego was able to convince the Education Department to approve this. Despite this, the government has not provided any funding for implementation of permaculture into schools. To implement the new curriculum, Ego and Permatil have had to find donors to implement the program. He began with 2 pilot schools in late 2015, and following their success and success in finding supporters introduced the program to around 100 schools in 2016 – 17.
A number of these schools have been funded by Australian Timor Leste Friendship groups. This network of groups have been operating since 2002 and link a community in Australia with a community in Timor Leste. One such group is The Friends of Manatuto which is based in the City of Kingston and supports projects in the sub-district of Manatuo. The groups form close ties with their partner communities and fund projects according to the wishes of those communities. The Friends of Manatuto find this project ideal to fund as it is Timorese driven, Timorese run and addresses basic needs of food security.
The program has been adapted as lessons have been learnt from the initial schools, and a formal evaluation is planned for late 2018. This evaluation will assess how well the concepts are understood, the impact the program is having on broader issues (food security, health, student engagement with school etc) and to what extent permaculture is being taken up by the wider community.
Ego has tried a number of methods to reach communities and encourage them to take up permaculture practices. Some of these include establishing demonstration gardens and running youth permaculture camps, but he believes that working with schools provides the greatest opportunity to engage with community. The program is carefully planned to engage with the wider community including via:
- Establishing a community parents committee specifically for the program
- Running workshops which are open to the whole community
- Training volunteer community members to assist with running the program locally with the support of trained Permatil staff
- Requiring students to bring materials from home for the gardens – eg a bag of goat manure, sticks for fencing
- Encouraging students to talk to their families about what they learn and establish gardens around their houses – some schools even give homework requiring this and the teacher will go to each student’s house to assess their compost etc.
- Providing support for local community groups and associations to establish gardens
- Encouraging attendees of youth camps to become involved in school gardens.
Timor has 1108 primary schools – so there’s still a long way to go to establish gardens in all of them and so still lots of funding needing to be found.
Ego was encouraged and inspired by his mother to become a musician and is now a self-taught singer-songwriter musician. Growing up he loved listening to The Beatles, Guns and Roses, Bob Dylan and many others, and wrote his first song when he was still at school (about 16) –this song’s tune evolved into the ‘Alphabet Song’ which used in all Timor schools.
Ego wrote Ho Timor in 2004 but this song became linked to unity within Timor after the crisis in 2007 when regional friction led to assassination attempt on the President, and played an important role in bringing the country back together. This song is now known by all Timorese – and Ego’s great and getting his audience to sing the chorus along with him – whether 3 students interviewing him at Carrum Primary School this week or a crowd of 10000 in an event leading up to the London Olympics (where he was part of a Pacific Island representative band) – or the Opera House crowd etc.
Eg was asked to write the feature song for the film Balibo in 2009 which was awarded best original song composed for the screen at the 2009 Screen Music Awards and a 2009 APRA Award for best song in a film.
Ego Lemos will be at the Downs Estate Community Garden on Sunday, April 8 as part of the Celebrating Timor Leste’s Food Future event.