Mary MacKillop Today (formerly Mary MacKillop International and Mary MacKillop East Timor Mission) has been active in Timor-Leste since 1994 when the Sisters of Saint Joseph responded to the request by Bishop Carlos Belo to help the people of East Timor through education in the Tetum language.

Today, Mary MacKillop Today’s focus in Timor-Leste is still very much one of education. Over the past 20 years, this work has expanded to incorporate teacher training, parent workshops, health education, a mobile learning centre, volunteer teacher support, and a livelihoods program, all delivered in close partnership with the communities that we serve and with the Timor-Leste government.

The Mai Hatene Tetum (‘Let’s Learn Tetun’) literacy program includes over 130 culturally relevant primary and pre-primary story books and teachers’ manuals in the Tetum language, 28 of which have been formally adopted into the national curriculum. Mary MacKillop Today provides in-service training to teachers using this program. The training program is based on the national curriculum and is child-centred, age appropriate, activities based and delivered in partnership with the Ministry of Education. In 2020, two new Tetun books were produced on raising awareness of the value and inclusivity of those with disabilities into the education system.

Mary MacKillop Today’s mission in Timor-Leste is to deliver sustainable development programs that aim to ensure that children receive quality education in safe, healthy and inclusive environments, and promote life-long learning in the communities where we work.

Mary MacKillop Today Projects in Timor-Leste

Mary MacKillop Today’s current projects include:

Tetum Literacy & Teacher Training

Mary MacKillop Today has been providing in-service training to Timorese teachers since 1996. Over time, the training workshops and accompanying teachers manuals have evolved based on the needs of Timorese schools, teachers’ and communities and in alignment with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Education’s national curriculum. As part of this project, Mary MacKillop Today staff provide ongoing training and support for approximately 200 pre-primary and primary school teachers each year to equip them with the skills and resources to provide quality literacy education to approximately 6,000 students in the classroom. Teachers are also trained in child protection, positive discipline and disability inclusion, and provided with class sets of Tetun storybooks that are culturally and linguistically inclusive and relevant.

Field based officers (FBO) are employed in the different remote areas and provide regular monitoring and mentoring for teachers to enhance their application of skills in the classroom. Over the years MMT has provided training to thousands of teachers which in turn has benefited tens of thousands of students.

This project is supported by the Australian Government via the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Health Literacy

Diseases such as malnutrition, tuberculosis, diarrhoea, malaria and dengue fever are endemic in Timor-Leste. These can be addressed through education and training on effective preventative measures as well as the development of good health and hygiene practices and improved nutrition. The Health Literacy program aims to provide both teachers with the necessary skills, knowledge and resources to deliver quality preventative health education in primary schools. This program also works to transform the whole school environment through a range of health promotion activities including regular monitoring by field officers, teacher mentoring, health events and a small grants program for school. In response to the unfolding COVID-19 situation, this program will expand its traditional school-focus to include the wider community. As a key partner of the MoH and WHO in the Timor-Leste COVID-19 response. In 2020, Mary MacKillop Today partnered with the Ministry of Health in the nation-wide COVID-19 response. As part of this, the health trainers were trained to visit communities and deliver the message of how to prevent COVID-19.and delivered Tetun posters and hygiene equipment to schools and communities. All training from all teams at MMT now have a COVID- 19 session on hygiene as part of their training, to ensure schools maintain a healthy environment and are prepared for any possible outbreaks.

This project is supported by the Australian Government via the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Parent Workshops

Over the past seven years MMT has solidified a series of parent workshops designed to increase parental engagement in early childhood education. This began with projects undertaken with Asia Foundation and with UNICEF, but which now continues as part of the normal training at MMT. This program supports hundreds of parents each year to attend a series of workshops to develop the skills and knowledge to be actively engaged in their children’s education, thereby improving early learning outcomes for thousands of children annually. As part of this training, parents learn a range of simple skills and activities they can use to support their children in the home, delivered by Field Based Officers based in the local community, who also provide ongoing monitoring for the parents and act as a community contact point  This enables children to have the best possible start to their education.

Mobile Learning Centre and Music Education

The Mobile Learning Centre aims to make key learning in areas such as numeracy, literacy and health more accessible to parents, teachers and children in the more remote parts of Timor-Leste.  The Mobile Learning Centre visits over 20 schools each year and enables thousands of children to attend story reading sessions and participate in simple literacy and health related activities covered in the various themes. Music and games are used to make this experience more enjoyable so children can develop a passion for learning.  Schools are given books and music and teaching resources and teachers are able to borrow resources from the library to assist them in the classroom. Teachers also attend training so that they can continue the skills learnt within their own classrooms.

Livelihood project – Vanilla farming and women’s small loans program

In the last few years MMT in Timor-Leste have taken on the supervision, training and support of a Women’s Livelihoods Project and the Vanilla ‘Beans of Hope’ Project in Railaco, Ermera District. This was undertaken at the request of the Christian Brothers who had moved from Timor-Leste. It is a 5-year project which works at supporting 56 women from Railaco to generate income through sustainable livelihoods activities, through a savings and loans program, production of new items, and with literacy, numeracy training and the smooth transition into becoming a co-operative.  It also supports and works with a group of Vanilla farmers in the production of vanilla, providing them with education, mentoring and resources to cultivate Vanilla with the view to this project being handed over to a local cooperative by June 2021.


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