MWIA volunteer Katrina Slingo has recently returned from Timor-Leste where she spent one month volunteering with the Loreto Sisters who are building the first Loreto Pre-Primary school in the remote area of Gari-uai.
As a 20 year old student still unsure of my vocation, the decision to take a GAP year was an easy one.
I wanted to incorporate work, volunteering and travelling into my year off study, and very kindly, the Mary Ward International Australia Organisation facilitated a five-week volunteer experience with the Loreto Sisters in Timor-Leste. I am lucky enough to have visited Timor once before on a 10-day immersion with my school, Genazzano.
This time the longer stay in Timor allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of its culture, language and some of the many joys and challenges of the Timorese lives. Working at the Gari-uai Primary School with Sr Natalie Houlihan, we assisted with art classes, PE and in learning the alphabet and basic words in tetum. It was an absolute privilege to interact with students who have the most wonderful enthusiasm for learning. It was a challenge learning how to foster this eagerness whilst attempting to keep the classroom environment at a relatively calm level! Observing the results of the students work from the Primary School and the Loreto Pre-Primary school was amazing. My favourite project was the completion of dot-painting on Australian boomerangs. The kids were intensely focused as they slowly dotted away by dipping skewers into paint. The Pre-schoolers were immensely joyful and very intelligent children who showed incredible potential and it was wonderful to see how the work of the teachers at the schools with the support of the Loreto Sisters is truly making a huge impact in the community of Gari-uai.
Another part of my experience were community walks and visits with the Sisters. I felt so privileged to walk alongside the Sisters in bringing communion to the sick, bringing school to struggling students, or bringing people to and from the medical clinic. Though they are living in extreme poverty, the generosity and hospitality of the people we visited was overwhelming. Such joy was experienced through simple conversation and companionship.
My experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity. With the Loreto’s and friends made in Timor, I was challenged and confronted and also received great joy and insight. I feel a great sense of gratitude and hope; and I can’t wait to go back in the future.