How we became BETTER
At 14 years old, Ornella Byak, originally from Sydney’s North Shore, embarked on a trip to East Timor that would change the course of her life. She was profoundly impacted by the disparity between her own education in Sydney and what she observed in the local village schools. She was taken aback at the poverty around her, the lack of educational opportunities and the obvious need in the villages she visited.
At the conclusion of that first visit, one of her Timorese peers approached her and said, “Don’t forget about us.” That day Ornella made a promise and commitment to the Timorese community: to never forget about them and do everything she could to create the same education opportunities she had growing up in Australia. She never forgot that promise.
Returning to Australia, Ornella was pivotal in the redevelopment of the Letefoho Senior School, which now offers comprehensive senior education and has achieved impressive results. In just five years, the student population grew by 1160%, with over 650 students attending senior school. The school also ranked first in the region and fourth in the country based on their National Exams. This approach to education resulted in qualified alumni returning to teach at the school and ensuring its continued success.
In 2018, at the age of 19 and in her first year at University, Ornella took the ultimate leap of faith and founded BETTER Timor: with a bold vision to set a new national standard of education on East Timor.
After conducting comprehensive testing in Letefoho, Cailaco, and Same regions, BETTER identified a significant gap in foundational education standards. The test results showed that only one in every 36 students aged 17+ years old could solve a basic math problem, indicating the urgent need for a more comprehensive curriculum and teacher support program to address the root issues impacting education. BETTER consulted with various community members, Government, church, and local organisations, to develop the thesis.
Thanks to the help of BETTER’s more than 45-strong volunteer team, BETTER have created a custom curriculum and teacher support program which is being deployed in BETTER’s progressively build Foundation to year 12 school.
In early 2023, BETTER’s founding patron, President Jose Ramos-Horta, opened the Bakhita School of Excellence in Same (Sah-may) welcoming 48 foundation students aged 5-6 years old. This progressively built school will grow to educate 650 children from Foundation Year to Year 12.
With more than 50% of the East Timorese population being under the age of 19 and having little or no education, 700,000 children are in need of an education. The challenge is immense, but Ornella is resolute. She won’t rest until her vision becomes a reality.