TWENTY years after East Timor’s historic vote for independence, the Marist Brothers are being recognised for their work helping to rebuild the new nation’s shattered schools and to train teachers.
East Timor was left in ruins after the Indonesian military retreated from the half-island state in 1999, burning and looting – 80 per cent of schools were destroyed, while 90 per cent of the remaining schools were damaged, and even today the majority of schools remain badly damaged and derelict.
In 1999, in the wake of the turmoil, the Bishop of Baucau, Basilio do Nascimento, wrote to the Marist Brothers in Melbourne requesting urgent help to start training new teachers for a new country.
In the following year, the first Marist Brothers arrived in East Timor as part of a plan to set up a diocesan teacher training college in Baucau, with courses accredited by the Australian Catholic University.
The training college was named Instituto Catholico Para Formacao De Professores, and the first students graduated in 2006.
Today, the college trains students to become leaders in the field of primary education and leaders within their own local community as well.
The college students learn critical thinking, pedagogy and child development, and are readily offered employment after graduation.
Working in the spirit of Marist Brothers founder St Marcellin Champagnat, the brothers and their Timorese colleagues have been working to transform East Timor and bring education and hope to the youth.
Rebuilding has not been an easy task.
Australian Marist Solidarity, with the support of their donors and partners, have undertaken 92 projects since 2000.
These include a major schools’ restoration program in Baucau diocese, which has supported 14 schools.
It has also supported development and learning centres, skills training, carpentry, agriculture, hospitality, sewing, mechanics, computing, programs for children with disabilities, youth and women’s centres, boys’ and girls’ hostels, and many more much need projects.
One of the many success stories is the Carpentry and Computer Centre.
This program provides computer and carpentry training for young people in Uai-Lili.
The village was previously known as a dangerous place of roaming gangs.
Maway, director of CTUF, was previously a leader of a gang in the area until he decided to turn his life around in 2013.
With the assistance of the Marist Brothers and Marist Solidarity, Maway secured an abandoned school building with approval from the local chief.
In 2014 he established CTUF, with a staff of three, and the computer program that has had 238 participants from 2014.
Under Maway’s leadership, CTUF also runs a small carpentry-training workshop which teaches DIY skills that students can use at home or for work.
“Because in my life in the past, I was a person who had a bad attitude and from the support I received I tried to create something new from my life, for the future,” Maway said.
“My main aim for this centre is for the young people to move from not knowing to knowing; from not understanding to understanding.
“How can we learn together to help those who have no power to be empowered?”
AMS, with the Marist Brothers Communities and Baucau diocese has made a difference in the lives of youth in East Timor, however many challenges remain.
Nearly half of the East Timorese population is aged under 14 years old, with children the most vulnerable to poverty.
Basic services are lacking such as clean water, sanitation, health services and nutrition.
Australian Marist Solidarity Limited has evolved from a long heritage of aid and development activities conducted by the Marist Brothers Province of Australia.
Today, the Marist Brothers have a broad presence in countries across the Asia Pacific region.