Dear members of the Whitefriars family,
There is no doubt that this has been a challenging time for all in our community. Our attention is constantly drawn to our own situation. The news has been dominated by COVID-19 at the local and national level. The other day I received an email which reminded me that our experience here in Australia is quite different to that experienced by people in other parts of the world, particularly those from developing countries.
The email I received was from our Provincial Fr. Paul Cahill who provided us with a copy of the annual report from Carmel Impact. The specific purpose of Carmel impact is to raise funds to support the development of people in impoverished circumstances, especially in Timor-Leste.
For those of you who have arrived at Whitefriars in more recent times, our College has a very special relationship with the people of Timor-Leste. Each year since 2014 we have sent students and staff to the small village of Zumalai to support the development of their small school run by the Carmelites. These students and staff also develop a greater awareness of the plight of these positive, resilient and determined people who live with great difficulty.
Over the last 20 years, the service provided by the Carmelites has extended from Australia to Timor-Leste where they recognise that quality education is key to people having more opportunities to build sustainable, meaningful and happy lives for themselves and their children. The focus of the Carmelites work has been on supporting young people to access both formal and informal educational and other life skill opportunities. They have done this by developing schools; by opening a boarding house for children who would not otherwise be able to attend a local school; by offering scholarships at secondary and tertiary levels; and by supporting community building and leadership opportunities for young people. Carmel impact programs help the people of Timor-Leste to cultivate the confidence and capacity to manage and develop their own lives productively and to live and work effectively as a community.
The annual report also spoke about how the people of Timor-Leste and Zumalai had coped with the onset of COVID-19 without the resources that we take for granted. Below is a snapshot of that experience.
With schools in Zumalai closed for several months, local teachers worked hard to create learning material that students could take home. Several teachers also initiated online classes for students who could access the internet. When schools reopened, teachers introduced new daily handwashing practices using the new water tanks and taps that had been installed.
At the Tito Brandsma boarding house, several students had no family to return home to. They were cared for throughout, provided with a safe place to live and play during an uncertain time. These students also volunteered to learn how to use a sewing machine and made masks to donate to local frontline workers.
This simple account of the lives of the students in Zumalai provided me with a moment of perspective in a time when perspective was sorely needed in my life. Those of our staff and students who have been to Timor, including one of my sons, speak of a country with many challenges. Overwhelmingly though they speak of a people of unfathomable faith hope and happiness. A people who having lived through war, oppression, extreme poverty and now a pandemic have not wavered in their desire to use the little they have, coupled with a profound generosity and their belief in a hope filled tomorrow, to bring a little light, love and practical support to other in their community.
Our own Brother Sean Keefe first visited Timor-Leste in 2004 where he was struck by the poverty experienced there every day, especially in the rural Carmelite parish of Zumalai.
‘Many families can’t afford to pay for schooling let alone a university education for their children, if we can provide an education for these young people, they can get a job and support their families’ he said.
Each year at Whitefriars our main fundraising activity occurs on Whitefriars Day when we hold a Walk for Timor. I realise that for many in our community the circumstances we are living through does not allow room for donation to charity. But for those of you who can, I ask that you consider donating to this very worthy cause knowing that all monies raised is used by the Carmelites to create a better future for the young people of Timor-Leste.