Making new friends, and opening up new horizons

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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.”

While most of the other 16 Australians in the immersion program are outside playing volleyball, Julie-Anne Doan and Meg Hodgson, from St Ignatius’ College Geelong, are in the library at the Colégio Santo Inácio de Loiola in Kasait, helping unpack and tag the boxes of new books that have been donated to the newly-opened school.

“We’re just happy to help out,” says Meg.

Australian Jesuit schools Timor-Leste immersion The Australian students, two from each of the participating Jesuit and partnered schools across the Province, arrived in Timor-Leste on June 21 for a two week immersion that took in some of the works of the Jesuits in the country, including the new school in Kasait, and the parish and school in Railaco.

They came loaded with donations they’d gathered in their respective school communities, including 14 laptops, 100 soccer balls, soccer uniforms, boots, art supplies, pencils, shuttlecocks and badminton racquets, and medical supplies.

“When we checked in at the airport the other morning we had 514 kilos of luggage,” says Xavier College Melbourne Rector Fr Tom Renshaw SJ, who accompanied the students along with teachers from St Ignatius’ College Adelaide and Xavier Catholic College Hervey Bay.

An important aspect of the immersion is for students to gain an understanding of the turbulent history of Timor-Leste – a country only now experiencing its independence after decades of Indonesian occupation followed hundreds of years as a Portuguese colony. The first few days in Dili included visits to important historical sites such as the Resistance Museum and Dare War Memorial. The students also visited Santa Cruz Cemetery, the site where hundreds of Timorese were killed when Indonesian soldiers opened fire on a crowd in 1991.

William Calov, from St Aloysius’ College in Sydney, says it was difficult learning that such terrible things happened so close to Australia.

“They tell you it’s just over ten years ago, so most of the people you’re looking at have been through it. It’s pretty bad when you hear those stories, and learn that in Australia there was nothing reported on it. Now that it’s out, I think all Australians feel pretty bad about how we went about it.”

Australian Jesuit schools Timor-Leste immersion group

The students travelled to the village of Railaco, about two hours’ drive from the capital. The Jesuits oversee the parish in the village, as well as a medical centre, and recently took over Our Lady of Fatima Senior High School from the diocese.

While in Railaco, the students slept on the floor of one of the classrooms in the school. For some, the experience of washing under bucket showers and sleeping under mosquito nets proved a challenge. But others took it in their stride.

“I’ve spent a lot of time bush camping, so it doesn’t worry me,” says Josh Smith from St Ignatius’ College Geelong.

Margaret Nicholas, from Loyola College Mt Druitt was particularly inspired by Sr Rita Hayes, the Australian Good Samaritan Sister who lives in the community at Railaco and works at the school. 

“She’s basically dedicated her life to helping others. It inspires me to help out and do more. I’m not sure how yet, but she’s inspired me,” says Margaret.

Another benefit of the immersion has been the creation of stronger links between the Jesuit and partnered schools involved. The students first gathered at St Ignatius’ College Riverview for a formation weekend two months before they embarked on the trip. A number of the students then attended activities in other students’ schools, helping their fellow travellers raise funds for the trip. 

After spending two weeks together, many are also looking at what more they can do in the future.

“I never thought I would want to do this kind of work, but being here and experiencing it, seeing the help they need, makes me really want to help out,” says Joe Barlow from Xavier College.

Max Hamra, from St Ignatius’ College Adelaide, agrees.

“If the opportunity arises, I’d love to. Sometimes it’s a bit tiring, but it’s all worth it. You can see the difference – although it may be small – that you’re making.”

More photos from the students’ visit to Kasait here (from Jesuit Communications Australia).

Source: Province Express 

For more on the Timor-Leste education project, go to