During the past three years 10 young people from Timor-Leste have travelled to South Australia to speak with young people in three Secondary Catholic Schools in Adelaide. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this project was that young people in Adelaide heard face-to-face about the lives of the young people in Timor-Leste. Elga explained that the malnutrition experienced by her own family members in rural parts of the country has driven her to study nutrition at university and to seek to solve the problem of malnutrition. Alberto told us he felt lucky that he lived because two of his siblings died from starvation during the Indonesian occupation. Timor is our nearest neighbour after Papua New Guinea but many Australian secondary students are unaware of its realities. Hearing the stories of young people from a nearby but vastly different country can inspire them to bring their own gifts and capacity to contribute to change in their world. They can think about the need for Australia to be a generous country and assist our neighbours to overcome the poverty and malnutrition that they face. The personal stories of young Timorese can be a very powerful way for them to learn how to think differently about their world.
The benefits for the young people from Timor-Leste were also significant. They gained new skills through researching, developing and delivering presentations in English. For most it this was the first time they had given a formal presentation in English. They learned about the challenges and hopes of young people in South Australia. During the two weeks in Adelaide they saw other educational institutions and how various parts of the city are organised for the benefit of the population, that they do not see in Timor-Leste. Finally, their English language skills improved enormously, for the benefit of their future study and work prospects. Aldo and Romario have since won overseas study and employment opportunities in the United States and Australia respectively.
One interesting reflection from living with the families in Adelaide was that the Timorese young people thought parents and children in their households in Adelaide seemed like friends to one another, which is very different from the relationships between parents and children in Timor. Elga and Ipi were also surprised to see that fathers performed household tasks like cooking and cleaning. Elga returned home and suggested to her father that he could also cook at home. He said “that’s not the way things work in Timor”.
The O’Sullivan Centre is grateful to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide Charitable Trust and St. Aloysius College for funding this unique learning opportunity for young people in Adelaide and Timor-Leste. The 10 members of JDN (Juventude ba Dezenvolvimentu National ) who have had this amazing opportunity are also very grateful.