By Paul Dobbyn
LORETO Sister Diaan Stuart finds the prospect of opening a new school in East Timor at the start of June “both scary and exciting”.
It is quite an admission for the past student of Loreto College, Coorparoo, who spent many years as a principal in various Australian schools run by her order.
“But it’s all a bit scary now it’s all coming to fruition,” she said.
“It’s all very well to dream; now we have to make it happen.”
The path to realising the dream has included about nine years travelling around schools on the often-troubled island to Australia’s north.
The Loreto Sister was sent to East Timor in 2005 after the order’s Superior General Sr Mary Wright wrote a letter to all provinces saying members “must get out of their comfort zone”.
Sr Stuart said her provincial asked if she would go to East Timor to work in the Catholic Teachers’ College.
She came to understand the Timorese teaching community needed additional skills.
So she brought two graduates of Bacau’s Catholic Teachers’ College back to Brisbane ahead of opening what will be known as Loreto Garaic-uai School.
The senior bishop on the island calls it a “laboratory school” and Sr Stuart hopes that its example “will lead others to embrace a more modern approach to education in Timor”.
Young East Timorese women Jovita Freitas Ximenes and Sonia da Silva Belo are part of the plan.
They have been attending St Agnes Catholic Primary School, Mt Gravatt, sitting in classes as student teachers, observing and learning.
Sr Stuart said support given by principal Rick Sheehan and staff, as well as Brisbane Catholic Education’s executive director Pam Betts and area supervisor Mary Wallis, had been “brilliant”.
“The main difference the women are finding is that in Timor the teacher does all the talking,” she said.
“Whereas at St Agnes, teaching is much more pupil-centred.”
In late April, Sr Stuart heads back to East Timor followed soon after by the two teachers to start the new school.
Land has been donated in the village of Garaic-uai, a legal entity has been set up in Timor “after an incredible amount of red tape” and an architect has been chosen.
Tenders for the new building will go out soon.
In the meantime, the Prep year of Loreto Garaic-uai School will open on June 1.
Initially the school will be a shed, also donated by the village people, who are refurbishing it under the direction of Sr Stuart’s fellow Loreto Sister Natalie Houlihan.
“There are many challenges ahead but at least we’ll have made a start,” Sr Stuart said.