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East Timor host enjoys reverse immersion trip

Visiting Australia from East Timor for the first time, 'Alto' is discovering what it is like to be hosted by those he has hosted previously in his own country.

KATHLEEN TONINI December 19, 2012 4:47am

East Timor's Alberto 'Alto' Pinto is visiting Australia for the first time.


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East Timor’s Alberto Pinto — or Alto as he is known — is visiting Australia for the first time.

Mr Pinto acts as driver, interpreter, cook and security manager for the St Joseph’s College immersion trips to East Timor.

Now he is in Australia, being hosted by those he has hosted in his own country.

While in Echuca for three weeks, Mr Pinto is staying with Glenn and Leanne Roberts.

Mr Roberts is a teacher at St Joseph’s and he and his wife have both been to East Timor several times.

‘‘Without Alto, we really couldn’t go,’’ Mrs Roberts said.

Mr Pinto said he often became so attached to the students and teachers who visited that when the time came to drop them back at the airport, he always left quickly, to stop himself from crying.

He said this was because in the young people and adults that came, he saw family.

While here, his itinerary includes visiting the wharf and going on a paddlesteamer, visiting the Kyabram Fauna Park and catching up with the students and teachers who have travelled to East Timor.

‘‘We’re looking after him for a change, because he looks after us,’’ Mrs Roberts said.

Mr Pinto said he was being treated ‘‘like a king’’ and was worried he would return home 5kg heavier.

So far he has come across some fairly significant differences between Australian and East Timorese life.

He is surprised at the number of birds flying around without being harassed because in East Timor, young boys with sling shots usually took aim at birds and then barbecued them.

Traffic here is also very ordered and well sign-posted, he said.

‘‘In East Timor there are no rules, you drive however you want,’’ Mr Pinto said.

He has also noticed there is no rooster to wake him in the morning and no buffalos crossing the road.

When Mr Pinto was six years old he was taken by the Indonesian military from his home to Jakarta and, after running away, was placed in a Catholic orphanage there.

He learnt English at the orphanage and later worked in hospitality, serving tourists.

Mr Pinto speaks Portugese, English, Bahasa, Tetum and two local dialects.

Before becoming involved with the college trip, Mr Pinto was working for a volunteer organisation in East Timor.

He now hopes to encourage tourism in his home town, which is about five hours from the capital Dili.

There are about 15 families living in the village, which is located near the country’s second highest mountain.

Mr Pinto said the college trip to East Timor could be confronting for the students that went, particularly when they visited some of the families’ homes.

But he said the locals welcomed the visitors, because they did not come simply to see, but to support and be involved.

‘‘Alto makes you feel like he’ll keep you safe... he just does everything,’’ Mrs Roberts said.

‘‘But they still worry when I drive,’’ Alto joked.

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