It was certainly an eventful trip ranging from an earthquake just before heading home, spending more than 5 hours with the President Dr José Ramos-Horta AC, meetings in the Presidential palace and so much more.
This trip was a little different as I had some of the BETTER team with me for part of the trip including our Chair and his wife, our Director of Education, our Education Team Leader and our Research Team Leader.
Due to Covid, this is the first time I have been able to bring people with me and through their eyes, it was like seeing Timor all over again. The reactions on their faces, conversations over long chats after dinner, their reflections post trip and last but certainly not least, their excitement and commitment to come back again, as early as April was something I had never experienced before.
Timor is a special place, and indescribable until you have been there, but as our Education Director says, “It is a fascinating country, with some of the friendliest people he has come across who are extremely grateful for what we are doing.” To give you some context, he is a well-travelled, highly esteemed education leader and prior to that, a business leader, with significant life experience. It was good to know I wasn’t going insane and that other people understood the country in the same way I did.
I took them on a bit of a crazy ride whilst in Timor (to complement the journey thus far with BETTER). We visited several villages, drove on some horrendous roads and saw a lot of Timor in a short amount of time.
A key highlight of our trip, as described by our Chair, was our first day in Same, where we are building the new school. A little girl Beti, and her mother approached us in the morning as we were inspecting the site to determine the required construction. They had been waiting for almost 4 hours in the hope that we would be around so that they could ask about registering with the school. When they were advised there was still time to register, after seeing the look on Beti and her mother’s face, there was not a dry eye among the team. As Beti walked out, she was skipping with the biggest smile on her face.
This experience made it all very real. The school is no longer a dream, it is now becoming a reality. A life changing reality, providing hope to the children, their parents and the community at large.
To give you some perspective, this school will be the first school outside the capital of Timor (Dili), to provide a curriculum taught in English. It is providing an international education for rural children, without the extravagant costs associated with an International School, which can often be as high as $35,000 per year.
In total, we had 94 children apply to attend the school, double the capacity we were expecting. The demand for this standard of education is indescribable. To give you some further context, the local school in Same received just 12 applications for children to attend year 1.
Parents want their children educated to a high standard, which was evident in our parent information day. We had an impressive turnout of over 80 parents, all asking highly intellectual questions about the level of education BETTER would be providing, and what that would mean for the future of their children beyond school. We even had the second in charge at the district police in attendance, offering their services in security to the school.
The overwhelming support from parents, children, the community, our local Timorese partners and our team at BETTER, was just incredible.
Given the significant increase in student applications and to ensure students and teachers are set up for success, BETTER will now be opening the school in April 2023, and we have a lot of work to do in the meantime! This includes ensuring all 50 children are sponsored, resourcing the school and finishing renovations to the school buildings to ensure an optimal classroom environment. But as they say, with many hands make light work!
Upon reflection since my return, I am not sure whether it has really hit me yet, but this was all just a dream several years ago. When I first went to Timor in 2013 at just 14 years old, I said I would come back and build a school. This was initially achieved in 2014, when we opened the Senior High School in Letefoho, which has since educated over 650 children and was ranked fourth in the country in the national exams.
Ever since then, I have wanted to reform the entire education system in Timor and this desire prompted the creation of BETTER. From the beginning I had a crazy idea to solve the root cause of the education problem in Timor, which started with the curriculum and a teacher support program. The vehicle to do this was the dream of a school providing a kinder to year 12 for the children of East Timor. Until now this has continued to be a dream, but when I was sitting in front of 83 parents, with my incredible skilled and esteemed team, it was no longer a dream, it was real.
Real parents, real children, a real team, a shared dream and now, a shared reality. All looking at us. Their eyes were filled with hope and excitement.
Something words just can’t quite describe…
I would like to thank the incredible team at BETTER, our Timorese partners and our donors. Without each and every one of you we could not be where we are today. All those parents and children’s faces are because of each of you. So thank you.
With such demand, we have a lot of work to do before April and we can’t do it without your continued support. For as little as a dollar a day, you can sponsor a child for a year and for just $2 a day you can sponsor a teacher for a year.
We also invite you to become a founding donor of BETTER and hold the naming rights to our first classrooms for just $25,000 each. Additionally, you will be named as one of the founding donors of BETTER sitting alongside our current founders including the President of Timor-Leste and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, His Excellency Dr José Ramos-Horta AC.
To open by April, we have an urgent need to raise these necessary funds.
As one of our Timorese partners says, “a dream alone is just a dream, but together it is a reality.” I welcome you in joining us change the reality for the children of Timor…