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A COVID-19 related flight in Timor-Leste

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

At 7am on the 8th of April, Pilot Andrew Macdonald and MAF Timor-Leste’s Operations Assistant, Aldo Falo took off in the MAF aircraft VH-MFM for the region of Oecusse.

Oecusse is an area of Timor-Leste surrounded by West Timor (Indonesia). To access this region from Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, one has to travel by sea ferry or by road, taking many hours. With the recent State of Emergency declared in Timor-Leste due to the COVID-19 crisis, Oecusse has become locked away from the world. The ferries have stopped. The borders are closed. They are seemingly alone and cut off from everyone else.

The people of Oecusse, however, are not on their own. The flight on the morning of the 8th of April was proof of this fact. In Dili, eighty kilometres away, the staff of Oxfam send help.

Kathy Richards, Country Director of Oxfam Timor-Leste explains,

“Today we are sending 430 kilograms of hand washing kits, soap and posters to the Timorese people of Oecusse. 68,000 people in Oecusse are without ferries and commercial flights to mainland Timor-Leste. Surrounded by Indonesia, Oecusse is a border region vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission. Oxfam has worked in Oecusse for twenty years. We won't let them down. A specially approved cargo delivery filled with Oxfam resources, using the MAF plane. We are working together for a special delivery for Oecusse. This will get COVID-19 information packs to 14,350 households and hand washing kits to 1500 families. Thank you MAF - Safe flight!”

MAF Pilot Andrew Macdonald said a team of people came to help load the aircraft. “The Oxfam staff stressed that the information flyers were the most important resource on the plane, as the need to educate people about COVID-19 was the first line of defence. The load was bulky rather than heavy, but we got it all into the aircraft without too much hassle. It took fifty minutes to fly down the coast. There were a few isolated clouds on the way with a high overcast layer which kept the temperature down en-route and when unloading. The importance of this flight was clear from the beginning! Being able to get education material and appropriate protective supplies to Oecusse was hugely significant for all of us involved.”

Working to help isolated people is one of MAF’s key purposes for existence. It is why our MAF planes and personnel are currently in countries like Timor-Leste, looking for ways to serve in these times of COVID-19. Partnering with organisations like Oxfam who have the networks, information resources and the equipment to promote health and good hygiene is what MAF loves to do.

This flight was particularly important for MAF staff member, Aldo Falo, who grew up in Oecusse region of Timor-Leste and has family still living there. Aldo was able to join Andrew on the flight. “Thank you to the Timorese government for allowing MAF to operate this flight to help the people of Oecusse."



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