Jesuit Education in Timor Leste

Jesuit Education in Timor Leste

Projeto Educação Jesuíta in Timor Leste is a common engagement of the Conference that receives significant support from the Jesuit provinces of Australia, Japan and the Philippines. The education project comprises two complementary institutions – Colégio de Santo Inácio de Loiola, a secondary school, and Instituto São João de Brito, a teacher education centre. It is located in Kasait, a rural area approximately 18 km from Dili. Construction began in 2012 and will continue through at least another 10 years.

The secondary school took in its first intake of students in Year 7 in January 2013, and will have its full complement of approximately 550 students in Years 7 to 12 by January 2018. It will also develop a vocational education stream by 2015. The teacher education centre, Instituto São João de Brito, is intended to prepare teachers for secondary levels, including for vocational and technical streams. It will commence in 2015 with in-service training, and a full initial intake in 2016.

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The clinic may only be six months old and located in a classroom in Colégio de Santo Inácio de Loiola (CSIL) in Kasait, but already it has begun community outreach services to nine villages in the broader Ulmera area.  The focus has been on raising awareness of hygiene, safe drinking water, sanitation, nutrition and communicable diseases, and organising dental, eye and general medical checks.

The nurse responsible for the clinic is Sister Eliza Fernandes of the Religious of Jesus and Mary (RJM).  The RJM sisters from India are collaborating with the Jesuits on the education project, with sisters running the clinic and working in the school.  

Sr Fernandes arrived in Timor-Leste in August last year, and spent some months learning Tetum, visiting families with the staff of Jesuit Social Service to understand the situation, and meeting with local community leaders and the government health centre, before opening the clinic in June and beginning a more structured outreach programme together with Jesuit Social Service.

The conditions in Ulmera are typical of the majority of Timor-Leste’s population. According to the World Health Organization, 70 percent of the people  “live in small, dispersed villages isolated by mountainous terrain and poor road conditions".  For the people in Ulmera, the nearest hospital is in the national capital, Dili, about 45 to 90 minutes away by car, precious time for someone needing emergency care.

Students had their eyes checked in November by the Fred Hollows FoundationThere are also no X-ray or laboratory facilities, and no pharmacy, said Sr Fernandes.  In addition, lack of awareness challenges health in Ulmera, where common illnesses include diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malaria, dengue fever, parasites and under-nourishment.

Seasonal changes also cause health issues, with the dust and heat of the dry season (May to November) causing respiratory problems or exacerbating illness; and the heavy rains of the wet season (December to April) causing dengue, landslides, and injuries.

"The literacy rate of Liquica district is also very low," said Sr Fernandes, who served in a dispensary in a remote village in India before going to Timor-Leste in 2014. "Most of the adults in Ulmera are illiterate and lack the knowledge of healthy living. Mass media communication is inaccessible due to poor access to electricity in the area so people have a poor awareness of health issues. This ignorance leads to the increase and spread of diseases."

Even without the outreach programme, the clinic is already meeting a need in the school.  Daily, Sr Fernandes has students, many of them from poor families, coming to her with aches and pains, fevers, upset stomachs, ear pain, dizziness, asthma and injuries.

"Because of the lack of basic necessities for proper nourishment, sanitation and healthcare, quite a number of them are often sick and are easily tired," said Sr Fernandes.

The construction of the Daniel Ornelas Health Center (DOHC) is in progress.Construction of the clinic, to be named the Daniel Ornelas Health Center (DOHC), is in progress and anticipated to be completed by the middle of 2016. Located on the grounds of the Jesuit education project, the intent is for it to provide public healthcare services not just for students and staff, but also for the broader Ulmera community.

Looking to the future, Sr Fernandes aims to provide health education to schools and communities in Ulmera through seminars, promotional materials, audio-visual productions, and to supplement government services with regular mobile health clinic visits to remote areas.

Related story: RJM collaborators in Timor-Leste 

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  • The scorching sun may deter some people from venturing out of their homes, but not the hundreds of children hoping to get a place in Colégio de Santo Inácio de Loiola (CSIL).  They braved the heat, some travelling for an hour, to go to Kasait for the entrance exam.

    In total, 278 candidates for Year 7 and 145 for Year 10 showed up, excited and anxious.  They knew that it was going to be tough getting into the school, not just because of the exam but also because there were many more applicants than available places.

  • The education secretaries within the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP) are increasingly acting and growing as a network. Participation from provinces and regions with schools is strong and the meeting has shifted from mainly sharing updates to discussing areas of possible collaboration and matters of common concern.

  • The Jesuits in Timor-Leste have launched a new education endeavour for the children in Ulmera, a rural part of the country where the still under construction Jesuit education project is located. Through the Ulmera Project, they aim to increase the chances the children from the Ulmera community have of getting into Colégio de Santo Inácio de Loiola (CSIL), the Jesuit secondary school in Kasait, Ulmera.

  • Projeto Educação Jesuíta was inaugurated on January 25, with a number of special guests including Father Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, giving the project their blessing.

  • Isaías Caldas knows the value of a good education. The Jesuit scholastic grew up in Timor Leste and was one of a privileged few who attended St Joseph College, a Jesuit-run senior high school. But most of his peers had no such luck: their country’s education system had been rendered broken and ineffective by decades of Indonesian occupation and centuries of Portuguese colonisation; their parents were eking out a living in a country on the cusp of independence - surviving from one day to the next took precedence over planning for their children’s future.

  • Xavier Catholic College Hervey Bay student Julie-Anne Doan’s face lights up as she talks about the experience of meeting and chatting with the young people she’s encountered on the Timor-Leste Immersion Program.

    “We’ve been looking at the history, and seeing how much they’ve gone through,” she says. “Yet they’re able to smile and to give to others just as if we’re part of the family. I don’t really want to leave to be honest.”

  • There was much delight at the recent JCAP Education meeting in two significant developments.

    Fr Christopher Gleeson SJ, JCAP Education Secretary and meeting chairman, shared that the group learnt a good deal from inaugural Principal, Fr Plinio, about the beginning in January of the new school in Timor-Leste, Colégio de Santo Inácio de Loiola.

  • As if beginning a school literally from ground up were not challenge enough, the team responsible for the Jesuit educational institute in Timor-Leste is having to race through its first year of school and begin its second academic year some two months earlier than anticipated.

  • In 2012, we began to see dreams and plans become reality.  Nowhere was that more obvious than in Timor-Leste with the ground breaking in July for an educational institute. Over subsequent months the first buildings were erected, the first students selected to begin at level 7 in the secondary school that is the first part of the institute, and the first cadre of teachers were introduced to Ignatian pedagogy.  

  • In February, the Jesuits in Timor-Leste welcomed their latest collaborators in their education mission – the Religious of Jesus and Mary (RJM).  

    Sr Selma and Sr Mary with a student at the school