TWO young idealists keen to help the poor of East Timor have found common ground with the Canossian Sisters, and have embarked on an adventure that has turned spiritual.
Dan Foster, 25, and Anastasia Guise, 23, left Australia last weekend to work as volunteers with the sisters for 12 months in one of the poorest parts of East Timor.
For Dan, a Catholic who ‘has not been to church in a few years’, and Anastasia who is ‘not committed to any particular faith’, this is not a scenario they could have imagined a year ago.
But they feel very comfortable with their partnership with the sisters, and definitely excited about the possibilities.
That includes their openness to explore questions of faith and spirituality.
The sisters have enlisted the two to use their horticultural expertise to steer the establishment of a community nursery and permaculture gardens project in Los Palos in the Lautem district, in the far eastern province of East Timor.
Dan, of Ashgrove in Brisbane, has a background in horticulture and nursery establishment, and Anastasia, of Lismore in northern NSW, has experience in permaculture and food gardens.
They say they have a passion for permaculture, regeneration and working with communities, and they both were interested in helping in East Timor in some way.
Dan met Canossian Sister Eufemia Lacerda da Costa, a former East Timorese sister living in Brisbane, through an East Timorese solidarity group, and because he had a plan to go to East Timor, he started receiving language lessons from her.
‘We started talking about the [Canossian Sisters’] volunteer program and my skills, and it just developed from there,’ Dan said.
When Sr Lacerda da Costa asked Dan if he had a friend with the necessary skills who might be interested in joining him on the Los Palos project, he immediately thought of Anastasia.
Anastasia had been wanting to help in a practical way in East Timor for some time and this project was perfect.
But, more than just being an avenue for fulfilling a dream, meeting Sr Lacerda da Costa and the other Canossians has touched Anastasia spiritually.
‘The contact with the Canossians has been amazing – very inspiring,’ she said. ‘The sisters I’ve met in Brisbane have been wonderful, especially the East Timorese sisters.
‘I’m astounded to meet people on this earth whose lives are so generously dedicated to spiritual service.
‘It’s kind of what I’ve been looking for. I have felt a bit odd because I couldn’t find other people, especially young people, who are interested in that sort of work.’
Anastasia said she felt ‘really protected’ by the sisters’ prayers.
‘I’m feeling connected through their spirituality.’
She said she had been brought up in a very spiritual household but one that was not ‘religious’.
The family’s principles were based on living an unselfish life, and Anastasia said she was dedicating her life to serving.
‘I’m trying not to do my will but the greater will.’
Sr Lacerda da Costa has been preparing Dan and Anastasia for about four months, teaching them about the Timorese culture and language, and about Canossian spirituality.
She explained that the Canossians were about making Jesus known and loved, and that they were working with the Church in East Timor.
‘I told them that if they were serving others in East Timor, you’re serving God.’
Sr Lacerda da Costa said they spoke about God and Jesus from a Catholic perspective. She said Anastasia spoke about God many times and said she wanted to do the will of God.
‘They were so happy with the prayer blessing [the sisters gave them before they left].
‘Their heart is there with God.’
Dan said he was looking forward to working as a volunteer with the sisters.
‘We’re all working towards the one goal which is for the benefit of the people of East Timor.
‘I’m looking forward to giving time in a community that has such strong faith. I’m looking forward to being immersed in that.
‘They’re pretty amazing. I find it inspiring to see people like the nuns – how they’ve basically devoted their lives to helping people.’
Dan and Anastasia will involve the community in establishing the nursery and permaculture gardens, and three local people will be employed to work with them.
As well as establishing the project, the two volunteers will train community members in horticulture and permaculture so the project is sustainable at the end of the 12 months. Another aim is to improve water resources.
The nursery will supply plants for the permaculture gardens as well as being a commercial supplier.
The project will be established on land owned by the Canossian Sisters.
Sr Lacerda da Costa said the project was supported by donations and more money was needed.
Anyone wanting to make a donation can phone Sr Lacerda da Costa or Sr Rosa Covino on (07) 3398 3345.
The sisters also welcome calls from others interested in the Canossian Volunteers service.