Timor-Leste: How far will you walk?

May 2014    
50 per cent of Timorese are aged 15 and below, and only 18 per cent of the adult population have secondary education.

The country of Timor-Leste is shaped like a crocodile’s head. The folklore told to all children in Timor-Leste was that once upon a time, a young boy picked up a young crocodile and helped it move from the lagoon in to the sea. For this act of kindness, the crocodile allowed the young boy to ride on its back to go on many journeys.

Before it died, the crocodile then told the boy that he would turn into a beautiful land where the boy and his descendants could live.

Today – it is still “for the children” that the Methodist Missions Society (MMS) desires to serve in Timor-Leste, a country with a terrain that is largely mountainous with a sparse population of just 1.15 million.

MMS Country Coordinator for Timor-Leste, the Rev Teresa Wilborn, recalled: “About two years ago, we travelled twice along narrow and windy mountainous roads, and each time, we passed by a continual stream of young teenagers, walking in their slippers, either downhill or uphill, presumably back to where they came from.

“As our four-wheel drive trundled by, our 16-year-old translator waved to them and seemed to know many of them by name. I asked him: Who are they? He said they were students walking to the only high school in that district – in the town of Gleno that was located in a high-altitude valley, in the midst of the mountainous region.”

The Rev Wilborn found out that these students often had to trek two hours each way. It was hardly surprising then that many of them did not graduate, given the arduous trek and the inaccessibility.

During the rainy season, these roads would turn to rivers of mud, which no doubt would further hamper travel on foot, not to mention four-wheel drives!

The high school in Gleno is the only high school in Ermera, a district in Timor-Leste that spans a mountainous area of 748 sq km, which makes it 32 sq km larger than Singapore. The odds are stacked against a young person making it to the finish line and graduating from high school. Public transport does not exist, and the cost of taking a private mini-van is beyond the budget of most villagers.

And this was exactly how the idea of building a students’ hostel in Gleno came about. This will be located about one km from the Gleno high school, and will provide a safe, clean and comfortable accommodation for 40 students. They will be supervised and cared for by MMS missionary house parents, Joseph and Grace Mannar, who are sponsored by Bedok Methodist Church.

 Hakka Methodist Church has come alongside to partner MMS in the Gleno student hostel project, which will be built on 5,000 sq m of land with completion expected by early 2015. They are also sponsoring two MMS missionaries from Medan: Susanto and Asnah, who is a medical doctor.

 Moving in the wake of this development are plans to build a Methodist School in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. The school will be built on a prime piece of land donated by a major benefactor, and will seek to provide a holistic education to students from grades one to 12 in the tradition of our Methodist schools in Singapore.

 Just weeks ago, MMS hosted Timor-Leste’s Education Minister, Bendito Dos Santos Freitas, on a visit to several of our Methodist schools in Singapore where he was briefed on our academic curriculum and co-curricular activities that work together to build sound leadership, values and character.

 Aldersgate Methodist Church will also be sending and sponsoring missionaries for the work in Timor-Leste. They are: Rudy Wong, who will be sent to Dili, and David Chan, the former vice-principal of Fairfield Methodist Primary School, who will take the helm as Principal of the new Methodist School in 2015.

Roads leading out of Gleno into the mountains turn to rivers of mud during the rainy season.

PRAY * for the smooth completion of the Gleno hostel and wisdom for our missionaries
PRAY * for Timorese youths to persevere in completing their education
SPONSOR * a Timorese youth for $90 a month under the MMS Student Sponsorship Scheme. Your entire contribution will go towards a student’s food, clothing, medical care and living expenses. DONATE u to our work in Timor-Leste. Cheques may be made out to “The Methodist Church in Singapore (MMS)”. Please write “Timor-Leste” on the back of the cheque.

CONTACT * Mr Noel Tam at noel.tam@ message.methodist.org.sg for more information.

Pictures courtesy of the Methodist Missions Society

Christina Stanley is the Editor of Methodist Message. She wrote this article with valuable input from Noel Tam, MMS missionary to Nepal currently on home assignment in Singapore, and the Rev Teresa Wilborn, MMS Country Coordinator for Timor-Leste.



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