My Two Years in Timor-Leste

Murayama Hyoe SJ (seminarian)

  In its 15 years of independence, Timor-Leste has grown little by little into a rich and peaceful country. While it has gotten richer materially, the role of education in fostering moral virtues and physical health has become a significant challenge in this country, where minors make up half the population.

  From March 2015 to February 2017 I was missioned to work as a teacher at Colégio de Santo Inácio de Loiola in Timor-Leste. My two years in this school were a good experience for me. I learned many things from the Timorese people by engaging and working with them.

  A unified secondary education with full day curriculum, in an environment quite apart from the hustle and bustle of the big city, is still a rarity in Timor-Leste. This year the school has about 550 students from Years 7 to 11. The majority of the students get up at 5 or 6 a.m. and take school buses from Dili, the capital city, to be in time for the start of school at 8:00. There are seven class periods from Monday to Friday. Even though the students leave school at 3:30 p.m., loaded with their homework, they don’t reach home until 5 or 6 p.m. Students that walk from the local village also have to spend a lot of time cooking and washing when they get home. They finish their homework late at night, often impeded by unscheduled weekly power failures.

  New students, accustomed to the easy-going lifestyle of their previous school, easily get sick simply because they don’t eat breakfast. It takes them over a year to get used to the school discipline. Water supply, electricity, home electric appliances, and the internet are extraordinary things for them, except for those who belong to the quite small number of affluent families.

  Actually, however, when we look at the kids living in such discomfort and poverty, they don’t seem to be “unhappy.” It is a familiar sight to see our students sharing their food in the cool shade of the trees near the school buildings during lunch break. When a teacher is carrying a heavy load, they naturally volunteer to help. “Help” [ajuda]—I like that expression they always use.  Teachers often face one difficulty after another. They received their own primary education during the Indonesian military occupation, and now they have to adapt themselves to a Portuguese-based education system. They live busy lives from early morning to sunset, like their students. When they arrive home, they have to look after their own children. When I see them pouring out hot water into a 25-cent instant noodle cup, I feel sorry for them. They, too, share the simple food they bring and eat together in the faculty room. They are the ones who rose up in this country when “somebody had to rise up and offer themselves to education.” I have also learned many things from them.

  In the field of education, where each student strives to make their talent and ability flourish, there is naturally a competition of academic performance, which creates differences in ability. There is already a big difference right from the start between students from good private schools in Dili and those who went to rural public schools. With the help of scholarships and learning support before and after admission, both are studying together. A wider horizon and deep thoughtfulness are required in our lessons. Watching our students help each other when they study, I find hope in Timor-Leste. Sharing meals between winners and losers of competitions is a beautiful situation realized not only at home, in a classroom or in a faculty room, but also in a whole nation and between nations.

  During World War II, the Japanese occupation of Timor dragged on for three years, with threats, exploitation, forced labor, executions, and sexual assaults. We must not forget the historical fact that 75 years ago girls of the same age and looks as those of our Colégio students, had to bear unendurable hardships and tears as comfort women.

  Both the happiness of humanity and the well-being of a nation consist firstly of virtuous moral actions born from good hearts and the physical health that supports them, together with a proper amount of wealth to serve these two. A society which only maximizes health and wealth without fostering morality will probably not be happy. Needless to say, education contributes greatly to forming such a virtuous moral life.

  If we put justice into practice by learning from the Timorese people and working for their future, the joy of helping one another will shine out with immortal values.

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