From housemate to humanitarian: Australian Big Brother's Tim Brunero
18 May 2006
by Belle Hann
"You have to give up a lot of stuff that you take for granted. It's another world. It really is another world – even just having a shower is a trial." But "Big Brother's" Tim Brunero isn't describing his time in the "Big Brother" house last year, he's talking about volunteering in East Timor with Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA or the Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad.
A much-loved contestant on the reality tv show "Big Brother" in 2005, Tim became known in the house for his wit, intelligence and commitment to social justice – attributes rare in a reality television contestant. Although he didn't win "Big Brother," he did win his episode of Celebrity Ready, Steady, Cook and he donated his prize money to Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA which is the overseas humanitarian aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).
Tim took things a step further and donated his time to this organization. He has long admired their progressive approach to community development, particularly in East Timor. "They don't just drop sacks of rice. They go to a community, they consult heavily, and then they integrate themselves through local partners."
The newest country in the world, East Timor is recovering from decades of internal conflict. Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is helping to rebuild a peaceful, democratic and independent East Timor by donating over AUS$3 million dollars worth of aid including setting up trade unions, vocational education and community development.
"It is so tangible and so exciting," Tim said. "Because things in East Timor are just so basic, so bare bones, you feel the contribution you can make is greater and you can see the fruits of your contribution much more readily."
During his time in East Timor, Tim visited the trade cooperatives set up by Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA that empower local people with practical skills such as carpentry, blacksmithing and media production. Tim witnessed firsthand how these 'little functioning organisms' are building a healthy economy and infrastructure in East Timor. "There's not dependence cycle and there's no loop. It's this fantastic idea that everything you do helps the community build itself."
Post-Big Brother, Tim has been writing a book about reality TV and working on a documentary about East Timor. The documentary chronicles Tim's experiences with the East Timorese people including an interview with 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos Horta.
During a break in filming, Tim and his film crew made friends with local children in a remote East Timorese village. "The most beautiful thing was, when walking with the kids, I felt this little hand coming up in my hand–they are just holding your hand as you walk along."
Both Tim's parents are active volunteers who have influenced Tim's commitment to hands-on activism. "I don't just want to give $10 a week for such-and-such organisation to go out and do good work. I actually want to devote my time and my life to doing good work."
If you're interested in volunteering in East Timor, Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA recommends contacting Australian Volunteers International. Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is not a volunteer-sending agency per se and only sends volunteers when specific skills are requested by overseas partners. They run annual study tours as part of their global education program and let visitors experience their development projects in diverse countries and cultures.