Visitors with Tales of Success

Timor-Leste is a country in Southeast Asia, approximately one hour’s flight away from Darwin. The country has a population of 1.3 million people and it has the highest rate of poverty in Southeast Asia. Before the pandemic began, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that, “one in five Timorese households were receiving payments from overseas.”

The connection between Australia and Timor-Leste, historically, is a very close one. Australia is Timor-Leste’s largest development and security partner, and we have been at the fore in providing COVID-19 assistance.

Earlier this month the St Aloysius College community met three Timorese women who brought this connection even closer to home. Alancia, Belizia and Tinisia, all in their mid-twenties, visited St Aloysius College over several days and forged bonds with students and staff; teaching us and proving to us that there is great hope for the people of Timor-Leste.

These young women were very small children when Timor-Leste gained independence in 2002, and despite having experienced personal challenges, they are well on the way to success. Alancia is training to become a petroleum engineer, Belizia, a teacher, and Tinisia, a nutritionist. In these careers, they will be able to provide solutions for critical issues their people face and actively participate in the economic and social progression of Timor-Leste.

During their visits to SAC, Alancia, Belizia and Tinisia enjoyed observing the way that teachers and students interact, and the learning materials on hand. Belizia shared, “we went to a Physics class taught by Mr Arman. He had a special way of engaging the class and he helped everyone to understand things easily. He used classroom resources. Our classrooms in Timor-Leste did not have them. Sometimes three children have to sit on one chair.”

One of the highlights of their visit to SAC, the trio agrees, was a discussion with the incoming cohort of Year 12 SRC Executives. This discussion gave our students the opportunity to learn about a youth development program named JDN, which, under the guidance of SAC Old Scholar, Bernadette McEvoy (Class of 1977), they are actively involved with.

Bernadette has lived and worked in Timor-Leste for the last nine years and is on the Board for JDN. Since 2017, she has been bringing young adults like Alancia, Belizia and Tinisia to visit Adelaide and share their advocacy work. JDN was officially registered as an NGO in 2015, with a view to, “developing an understanding of young people’s views about unemployment problems, other youth issues, and possible solutions.”

During their lunchtime discussion with SAC’s student leaders, Alancia, Belizia and Tinisia spoke about issues of gender equality in Timor-Leste, and the campaigns facilitated by JDN to raise awareness and educate others within the community.

“One big challenge we have is harassment in the microlet. The microlet is like a mini-bus, with 12 seats, but they can be crowded. It is a main form of public transport. To try and stop the harassment, we spoke with the Minister of Transport in Timor-Leste and we created a Code of Conduct that the microlet drivers can use to stop harassment [on their bus]. We also put signs inside the microlet, we made stickers and t-shirts, and JDN is empowering more women to become microlet drivers,” Alancia explained.

“We were impressed by the confidence of the SAC students to use their voice about things that matter to them,” Tinisia added. “We found the students so confident and they asked us questions, when we had thought they might be shy. But they asked questions and we asked them questions too.”

Speaking of their connection with Bernadette, Alancia said, “we call her ‘Mana’ Bernie which is a term of respect. She tells us, ‘go outside of your comfort zone.’ She guides us and helps us improve our speaking and leadership skills. She listens to us and says: ‘what steps do you need to take to produce an action?” She doesn’t give us a plan, she just says – ‘we have a nutrition project – you should plan something.’ This is empowering. For example, Mana Bernie does not give us the recipe, but she gives us the ingredients to cook with.”

We look forward to keeping in contact with Alancia, Belizia and Tinisia and learning more about the work of JDN as they continue to pursue pathways of progression for youth in Timor-Leste.

For more information:

jdntimorleste.weebly.com/

Timor-Leste country brief | Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (dfat.gov.au)

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