Loreto Sister Aithien Nguyen ibvm has spent the last six years missioned to Gariuai, Timor-Leste, where she was the Director of Loreto Centro, a pre-primary school and community centre focused on educating the children of Gari-uai. Sr Aithien is now missioned to Vietnam as the new Executive Director of Loreto Vietnam. Here, Sr Aithien reflects on her time in Timor-Leste and her role to come.
I was introduced to Mary Ward in Ho Chi Minh City in 2003 by Sr Ha Thi Lee ibvm, Sr Margaret C. Honner ibvm and Sr Margaret Callaghan ibvm. I was attracted to the story of Mary Ward, St. Ignatius’s spirituality, the new ways of religious life and the Loreto vision of bettering education for women and children
I was taught and continue to be inspired by the Loreto Sisters – their patience and wisdom, rich experiences and loving generosity, great vision, and endless enthusiasm to encourage and empower people to provide and receive a better education.
My family was the first to motivate me to do the work I do today. My family was not wealthy; I remember my father said to us, his ten children, “We don’t have a lot of money to give you, but we can try to support your studying because if you want a brighter future, good education will provide a way.”
I found a passion for teaching and working with children, having spent much of my initial formation volunteering in schools. This passion led me to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Primary Teaching, going on to teach at a charity Primary School in Ho Chi Minh City for three years.
In early 2016, after undertaking a course in Pastoral Leadership and Management for Mission, I was appointed as the Director of Centro Loreto, a school founded by the Australian Loreto Sisters in Gariuai, a remote town in Baucau, Timor-Leste. In this role, I was inspired to promote brighter futures through education for the locals of Gariuai Village.
The role of Director of Centro Loreto was challenging. I encountered many new experiences and responsibilities and learnt countless new skills. Being Vietnamese, working with Timorese people and mainly using equipment and teaching methods from Australia was particularly challenging. However, I enjoyed my time with the teachers and staff, especially with the children and their families.
Reflecting on my time in Gariuai, I note some key takeaways:
Be patient: Life in Gariuai was very slow. When working with local people, I learned to be patient with them. People were hesitant to try new things, so I often had to show them how to do things repeatedly. Many times, I succeeded, and many times I didn’t.
Be friendly and helpful: The local people were usually afraid of talking with Sisters and Priests. Without friendship, I could not have begun to know their beauty, strength, and their stories of hardship. I would not have been able to assist them with their needs and learn how to talk, teach, and work with them.
Be open: To learn their languages, culture, and ways of life. Being open to accepting the differences between us and seeing the variety of skills and gifts among people, allowed both the local people and me to find ways to help each other develop.
Be skilled: To ensure everyone was safe and trained in our Centro Loreto, I had to be ready for whatever might happen. I acted as a director, teacher, maintainer, cleaner, gardener, accountant, advisor, consultant, and Sister.
Despite the cultures and situations in Vietnam and Timor-Leste being very different, my time in Gariuai taught me to be ready to ask for help, face new challenges and be ready to learn new things. I will take this approach into my next role as Executive Director of Loreto Vietnam.
I hope to continue the legacy of those who have supported Loreto Vietnam for the last 25 years; mainly Sr Trish Franklin ibvm, former Executive Directors, Loreto Vietnam staff, members of the board and the many generous donors who have empowered the mission for education with a clear focus on “lifting learners into the future”. I hope Loreto Vietnam can continue to nourish its goal of “Education for Change” and reach further sustainable actions for many more children, families, and communities in Vietnam.
I hope Loreto Vietnam will continue receiving loving and caring support, as it always has, and I hope I can offer my strengths, abilities, and energy to walk with Loreto Vietnam on this journey, as a Loreto sister and as a Vietnamese citizen.