Interview with Teresa Nao Tsujimura:
Japanese Salesian Cooperator in East Timor
Tokyo, Japan, 21 May 2018 -- Teresa Nao Tsujimura was a student at the Salesian Polytechnic in Tokyo when she joined a volunteer group led by a Salesian, Fr. Julien Sleuyter, and visited East Timor for the first time. After many visits in the following years as a volunteer, she is now committed fully as an expert in international cooperation, already rooted in East Timor for 15 years. We interviewed her to have a glimpse of her life among the East Timorese people as a past pupil and a Salesian Cooperator.
When did you first visit East Timor?
It was in 1994. When I was studying at the Salesian Ikuei Polytechnic, I joined the Ikuei Oversees Volunteers led by Fr. Sleuyter, a Salesian, and visited East Timor for the first time. We stayed one and a half months and worked to install a windmill powered pump in Baucau in the east.
After graduating from the Polytechnic, I worked for 8 years at a research institute for culturing orchids. During that time, using holidays in the summer or in spring, I continued to join in the volunteer work in East Timor,. In those days, East Timor was occupied by the Indonesians and there was much insecurity. I rejoiced when the country gained independence in 1999.
How long have you been living in East Timor?
It’s 15 years now. Fr. Sleuyter was looking for someone who could be involved long term in a project by JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) to assist diffusion of the fishing industry. Although I had some concerns about my not knowing the language and lacking in skills, I volunteered for the job and started to live and work in East Timor as a staff of Ikuei Oversees Volunteers.
Did you experience any culture shock?
Unlike Japan, there was no electricity nor running water, but nevertheless life was fulfilling. My first appointed destination was Lospalos in the east of the country. I lived in the Salesian house there. In the beginning, my life evolved within a very limited physical space, but with time, the sphere of everyday life gradually expanded as well as my relationships with people. It took me about 2 years before I could freely move around by car.
We hear you speak perfect Tetun, the Timorese language.
In East Timor, people use Portuguese as the official language, and also Tetun. When I started living in Timor, there were no school or formal text book in which to learn Tetun, so I had to self-teach myself. There was just one book at hand, “MAI KOALIA TETUN (= Come, let’s speak Tetun)”, which introduces the Tetun language in English. I studied with this book. When I encountered words I didn’t understand and that were not found in this book, I asked one of the Salesians for the meanings and on how to use them. I was the only Japanese there, so from necessity, I quickly picked up the language.
What have you learned from the Salesian Family or the young people in EastTimor?
I learned the way of life being with the people. There were missionaries in the Salesian community such as Fr. Jojo from the Philippines, Fr. Jose from India, a brother from Indonesia and so on. They were close to the local people, working with them, eating the same things and did not impose their own lifestyles on the local people. I wanted to be like them, following their style, so I learned from them in our communal life.
In the community, among the local Salesians, there were also volunteer staff from countries such as Australia, Philippines, India, visiting to give technical guidance at the Salesian agricultural school. I had the opportunity to experience living among people with diverse cultures.
This year in February, we had the Salesian Mission Day in Dili, the capital. Fr. Manuel Fraile led a seminar on Francis Xavier, Father of the missions in Japan, and Fr. Vincenzo Cimatti, Father of the Salesian mission in Japan. I helped with the translation of the video on Fr. Cimatti. I was able to confirm my wish to “follow in this way” when I heard the young Salesians in formation say, “We were touched to see how Don Cimatti tried to become the Don Bosco of Japan, making effort to inculturate the Gospel. There was even a young Salesian who said, “I would like to be a missionary to Japan like Don Cimatti.”
What is your occupation at work at the moment?
I am working with local officials in a public project to build and maintain the state highway network. A 3 year program is going on now with engineers sent from Japan to give technical guidance in roadway design, and I am in charge of its monitoring and assessment. I am also involved in an ODA (development aid by the Japanese Foreign Ministry) project to build a bridge in the capital. With the local officials, I look after the relocation and recompense of the residents who are asked to move from the building site.
Could you tell us how you became a Salesian Cooperator?
First of all, as a student of Ikuei Salesian Polytechnic, I met many Salesians who had positive influence on me. When I decided to go to East Timor through the Salesian project, I was surprised by what my grandmother told me then, that my grandfather was baptized into the Catholic faith when he married my grandmother and took as his baptismal name, Francis Sales, as he had become acquainted with a Salesian prior to that. It made me feel a strong bond with the Salesians.
I didn’t think of becoming a religious sister, but I was interested in the way of life as that of VDB, in which members live consecrated life in the world.
One day, I happened to come across a presentation of the Salesian Cooperators written by Msgr. Mizobe, SDB, to whom I owe a lot since my days in the Polytechnic. I understood that a Cooperator fulfills his or her task given at the moment and makes contribution through their respective position in society. I felt the desire to follow this way of life. I went through 2 years of formation in East Timor, received some formation also in Japan from Fr. Hamabe, and this year, , in February 2018, on the occasion of the Rector Major’s visit to East Timor, I made the promise and became a member during mass.
What do you look forward to as a Salesian Cooperator?
Together with those who share the same spirit of Don Bosco, and also with other people, I would like to be an adult who stays with the young, and is able to give them the means to live fully as Don Bosco did. I want to be someone who can encourage the young people.
You are also expected to be a bridge between East Timor and Japan as a mission partner of the Salesians.
If my role can be compared to a bridge, I’d like to be a strong one, so people can walk across. I’d like to put into practice what Fr. Jojo, Fr. Jose and others have taught me: to be with the people.
I still remember and try not to forget the words Fr. Hendrickx, who was the Principal when I was a student at the Polytechnic. He wrote in a school letter, “As an adult, to assume the same mode as the youth. It is different from becoming completely like a youth.” Being different, as a youth or an adult, Timorese or Japanese, we don’t need to be the same with the other, but I think it’s important to assume the same mode, go beyond one’s standpoint and understand, be involved with the other in order to live together.
East Timor is developing at an astonishing pace. The government is trying to focus on tourism industry. I would like very much for you all to come and visit East Timor to know this beautiful country. If you come, I will be your guide. I am also willing to do what I can to help when Timorese youth or missionaries are going to Japan.