East Timor Religious Outreach Scholarship Appeal

May 28, 2014

I begin this year’s East Timor Religious Outreach (ETRO) appeal with warm greetings and continued gratitude for your faithful support.  This past year I received word that two of our longtime major donors died, and so I want to give a special salute to them: Bill Rose of Asia Connection Inc. in Tampa, Florida, and Vivienne Blanquie, a dedicated social justice activist from San Francisco.  Bill and Vivienne were both humble, deeply caring and compassionate human beings.  Their memory continues to inspire me and I feel blessed for the gift of having known them. 
East Timor’s educational system continues to struggle. Many students are unable to attend school, and often, those that do attend school lack basic educational materials, and must learn from under-trained teachers in poorly maintained and overcrowded classrooms on campuses that have inadequate sanitation facilities. 
In addition, language continues to be a significant challenge for education in Timor-Leste.  While there are about 30 different languages and dialects spoken in the country, the two official languages are Tetum and Portuguese.  About 80% of the population speaks Tetum, which is the lingua franca, but it is primarily an oral language with little abstract vocabulary.  Portuguese is the language of education, but it is only spoken by about 5% of the population, and most of these are older adults.  Since the majority of teachers don’t know Portuguese, they end up trying to give their lessons in Tetum. Small wonder then that the students themselves are not learning Portuguese.
According to foreign trained indigenous leaders, another educational problem present in Timor-Leste is that education traditionally is regarded as a kind of “passing on of information from teacher to student, with students memorizing what is taught in order to regurgitate answers to pass tests.”  Problem-solving and critical thinking skills are rarely taught.  As one educator I talked with emphasized, “the result is evident in the society where initiative is lacking and creativity is nearly unheard of.” 
On a positive note, considerable progress is being made.  When the Indonesian military withdrew violently from Timor-Leste in the Fall of 1999, only 5% of the territory’s educational institutions were left standing, most of the infrastructure was destroyed, and there was a severe shortage of teachers.  Yet by 2012 over 83% of children in Timor-Leste were completing primary school.
The Salesian Sisters in Dili, the nation’s capital, have started a new professional training center that has become an impressive success.  The young women and men training and working with the sisters earn a living, open up their own bank accounts, and, to quote one teacher, “seem to have become active protagonists of their own future.”  The center serves as both a training ground and an institution which generates income for itself.  There is a section which produces uniforms for local schools, and a section for catering that  also functions as a conference center, a bakery, and a café! 
In response to the expressed needs of parishioners, the Protestant Church in East Timor started a new school in the rural village of Lisa Dila, approximately four hours from the capital.  Previously the nearest school had been about 40 miles away from this village, and there was no transportation.  Approximately 40 sixth-through eighth-grade boys and girls now attend this new school and the tuition is free.
I visited both of these recently established schools during my trip to East Timor this past November.  The Timorese are justifiably proud of what they have accomplished. 
Of course, as you know ETRO’s primary mission is to provide educational scholarships to young students through the Protestant Church in East Timor (Igreja Protestante iha Timor Lorosae) headquartered in Dili, and the Roman Catholic Salesian Girls School located in the rural mountain village of Venilale.  As a result of your generosity last year, ETRO was able to give checks for $3,325 to each of our ecumenical partners.  This year I will again be traveling to East Timor to meet with indigenous church leaders, foreign missionaries, and non-governmental organization representatives, and to deliver your donations.  Thank you so much for enabling all this to happen! 
As always, one hundred percent of the funds collected will be distributed equally between local East Timorese Protestants and Roman Catholics committed to building a better future for their nation.  There is no administrative overhead.
Please make your tax-deductible donations payable to “Hayward First United Methodist Church,” earmarked for “East Timor” on the memo line. 
With gratitude for your ongoing friendship, generosity, and support,
John Chamberlin, National Coordinator
East Timor Religious Outreach
For more information, contact John Chamberlin, National Coordinator East Timor Religious Outreach, easttim@jps.net, or (510) 270-8399.