A literacy legacy lives on.

In late January this year I had the privilege of commencing in the role of CEO of Mary MacKillop Today (MMT). In many ways, the journey to MMT had begun exactly 20 years earlier when I had landed in Timor Leste amidst the ashes of post-referendum conflict, to join those in the rebuilding efforts.

In the Nineties, I had come across the work of several Josephite Sisters in Sydney who had accompanied Timorese in exile in Australia at that difficult time. I was deeply impressed with their humility and support to that community to find strength, to advocate for change and for human rights to be restored in their yet-to-be formed tiny nation.

In my first days in Dili I came across a cupboard with some children’s books, the first to be produced in the local Tetun language with the insight and support of a few Josephite sisters who established the Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies. These few books had survived the physical destruction of the country.

More than two decades on, Mary MacKillop Today continues to deliver and develop this program. In the past year, the Tetun Literacy Teacher Training has seen:

  • Two hundred and six teachers from Manufahi, Viqueque, Dili and Ermera complete the program, meaning 3,170 children received quality education in the classroom and accessed high quality, inclusive resources.
  • One hundred percent of teacher demonstrated high quality in the delivery of Tetun Literacy during monitoring
  • Seventy four percent of teachers increased their knowledge on inclusive education
  • Eight thousand eight hundred and eighty-seven educational resources distributed

In recent months, the MMT team in Timor Leste have a marked another milestone with the Ministry of education launching two new books for schools focusing on disability. The books help to fill the inclusive education gap in the National Curriculum and the Ministry will print these for teachers across the country.

In launching the books, the Timor Leste Vice-Minister of Education, Youth and Sport noted the importance of these resources for children to understand the rights of people living with disability. Mary MacKillop Today is the first international organisation to produce inclusive education books to support children at the pre-school and primary level. He said, “Mary Mackillop is not only for Today, but Mary MacKillop is Today, Tomorrow and Forever.”

Alongside the Tetun Literacy are health literacy programs for teachers and communities, which have recently adapted to incorporate the very important COVID-19 preventative hygiene practices.

Mary MacKillop Today’s work continues to adapt and respond to the needs of vulnerable people far beyond Timor Leste to Papua New Guinea and Fiji and of course here in Australia. In Peru, the Sisters and partners working are currently enduring extraordinary hardship. Our support seems sometimes so slight in the face of the challenge but there is hope. Projects enhancing Women and youth leader’ participation in civil affairs in rural areas will adapt to allow program delivery in new and innovative ways and enrich local support in response to COVID impacts on women.

Working with the extraordinary MMT team with share a strong commitment to maintain the legacy of Mary, and the work of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, is a remarkable privilege. In these most difficult of times we continue, mindful of Mary’s guidance, to “Be eager in your desires but humbly patient in their accomplishment”.

Jane Woolford
CEO, Mary MacKillop Today