How important is education as a contributing factor in improving employment opportunities within East Timor and outside of their country? Fundasaun Alola(FA) is working closely with the Timor-Leste government and international conventions to protect women and children.
Education projects directed at women and children are focused on scholarships projects, teacher training, mobile library projects and preschools. There is currently preschools being supported in 120 remote communities. Each preschool is managed by their own local management committees.
Ellen Gallacher from Armidale applied to volunteer with Fundasaun Alola and she began her work in Timor Leste as an organisational management mentor nearly two years ago.
The East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia on August 30, 1999. Since then Australia has supported change in East Timor through sustainable development. In rural areas, mainly subsistence families are reluctant to pay to educate their daughters, because girls are not expected to work outside the home. When girls reach adolescence, travelling to school in remote areas can bring risk of sexual violence, and lack of separate toilets for boys and girls can mean girls are shamed when they are managing menstruation at school.
If a girl becomes pregnant while she still at school, shame forces her to leave, with no possibility of picking up her education later.
"We have scholarships for girls from rural families to go to school, and stay at school, and to go to university. We collaborate with other organisations to improve sanitation at rural schools and we are campaigning for the Ministry of Education to implement a Re-entry Policy which gives female students maternity leave, so they can return to school."Ellen Gallagher said.
"About 1,200 students a week. They are dedicated and motivated. English opens doors,' Ellen Gallagher reported from East Timor.
To improve education outside Timor-Leste, there are opportunities in Portugal, especially for people who have family connections there. But the overwhelming feeling among young people is that "English is the key". There are about three hundred university students that come to English Conversation Classes, which are offered by volunteer English speaker from the international community living in Dili.
"Within Timor-leste English is the language of international business, tourism, health, ASEAN and international development. So at Alola Foundation, I help my colleagues to write proposals and reports for our donors in English - and the donors can be from Germany, Korea, the UN or Australia," Ellen Gallagher said.
"There are international university scholarships in English speaking countries, and in Asian countries that deliver education in English. If you want to work in Australia on the Seasonal Worker program, you need English. The basic wage in Timor-Leste is $3,000 AUD a year. With English, you can make money to bring home to start a small business, and pay the school fees for your sisters and brothers," Ellen continued.
"Timor-Leste had a population boom after independence. It has been a huge number of kids to educate. There are still 10% of children who never go to school. Classes are still big. Its common to have seventy children in a class. Sometimes they are over a hundred. There are still 10% of children who never go to school. There is still as shortage of qualified teachers, so many teachers in rural areas haven't been to university. Teachers tend to use the authoritarian approach they learnt from their own teachers.My Alola colleagues who are trained teachers, support rural teachers to engage students their own learning, and to teach teachers classroom management strategies of positive behaviour (as an alternative to physical punishment - which is illegal).
"A Timorese friend asked me what a 'good life' meant for me in Australia. I said it meant health and financial security. For him it was "peace and a job". My wish for Timor-Leste is peace and prosperity," Ellen Gallagher concluded.
The vote for independence was won in Timor Leste twenty years ago on August 30.