If there’s anywhere Loreto should be, it’s Timor Leste
Timor Leste, one of Australia’s closest neighbours, has seen centuries of educational neglect. When the Portuguese left in the mid-1970s, the literacy rate was estimated at only 20% of the population. It is still reeling from the destruction of its schools and infrastructure during its campaign for independence from Indonesia in 1999.
Last year, the UNDP ranked Australia number 5 in the world and Timor a shocking 140 based on human development indicators such as life expectancy, literacy, and per capita income. Mary Ward International Australia (MWIA) ‘s trip to this beautiful land last month left us determined to help reduce this gap.
Top of mind during our trip was Sr Mary Wright ibvm’s call back in 2002, as the then Provincial Leader, to all members of the Institute to have the ‘Courage to Move’. ‘Courage to Move’ invited Provinces to look at the needs of their neighbouring disadvantaged countries and called upon Loreto Sisters across the globe to move beyond borders and re-engage with the missionary spirit that was evident in the early foundations.
Fundamental to this call was the Mary Ward charism to achieve a more just world where there is respect for the dignity of each person and equal opportunity for all, particularly women and children. This led to new roots being put down in such countries as Zambia, South Sudan and, for our Province, Timor Leste. Two decades later, Loreto Sisters from Australia, Vietnam, and India continue faithfully serving the people of Timor Leste.
MWIA and our philanthropic-minded Loreto schools and supporters have been part of our journey in Timor since its inception. Together, we’ve successfully built a flourishing preschool and a community development centre in Gari-Uai. In neighbouring Ostico, we now work with the local community to ensure they have access to clean water, fresh food, and small business opportunities.
Key to this partnership with the people of Ostico is the completion of a new community centre and permanent residence for the Loreto Sisters. This allows the Sisters to integrate into the community and have a lasting impact in Ostico by delivering equitable learning opportunities at the centre. In keeping with Loreto’s core vision, these programs focus on identifying and empowering local women with leadership potential.
Significantly, the community centre will be equipped to act as a base for volunteers to reside, to reflect on the collective courage to move, driven by the guiding principles of an engaged Loreto network that extends itself in the pursuit of accessible and inclusive education and opportunity for all.
We returned home from our trip knowing we needed to continue establishing partnerships with existing women’s collectives to help strengthen capacity and ensure sustainability through focused and purposeful education, income generation activities and community development programs.
We know that strong women equal strong communities – and that investing further in education will help individuals to achieve their potential. Improving education will promote economic growth and employment opportunities, resulting in healthier families and communities.
Aligning our priorities and resourcing will magnify the impact we can have. Collectively, we can fulfil this vision and ensure those disadvantaged by circumstance can flourish. We must keep moving and be part of a brighter future for generations.
Author: Hannah George, Executive Officer, MWIA