Just over an hours flight from Darwin lies a small island divided into two. In 1999 the eastern half of this island gained its independence and became known as Timor-Leste. The capital of this newly independent nation is Dili.
East Timor was colonised by Portugal in the 16th Century, and was known as Portuguese Timor until Portugal's decolonisation of the country. In late 1975, East Timor declared its independence but later that year was invaded and occupied by Indonesia and was declared Indonesia's 27th province the following year. In 1999, following the United Nations-sponsored act of self-determination, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory, and East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the 21st Century on May 20, 2002. East Timor is one of only two predominantly Roman Catholic countries in East Asia, the other being the Philippines.
Following the withdrawal of Indonesia the country was in great need of outside assistance to help in its reconstruction and future development. Timor-Leste has one of the youngest and poorest populations in the world. There is little or no internal infrastructure and government services rarely make it to the outlying districts.
In April 2006 the then Principal of St Francis of Assisi College, an independent Catholic co-educational school for children from Kindergarten to Year 12, visited Padua College to ask for our assistance in helping him rebuild the school. This request was accepted and a special agreement was signed at the end of that visit. The terms of the agreement were mutually beneficial to both schools where academic, cultural and financial exchange would take place.
Much has happened since that agreement was signed. Each year, in a major fundraising venture, Padua raises over $26 000 for its brother school in Timor-Leste. This money is available directly to the school via the Franciscan Friars who hold it in trust until suitable projects are developed for its use. To date, classrooms have been built, teaching resources purchased and a perimeter fence has been constructed around the school. There have been two visits made to the school in Timor by Padua staff and students and a return visit from the Principal and two students from Timor was made in 2010. In 2013 two staff and three Year 11 student travelled to the school to be part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. This visit will give the Paduan group a first hand look at what is happening in the school and how money has been spent on past projects.
Travelling to the school is an adventure in itself! Situated at the opposite end of the island from the capital city, Dili, a winding and often rugged eight hour trip is required. The centre of Timor is mountainous is slow. St Francis School is located in Manufahi District in the small village of Wekiar. These districts are served by the Franciscan Friars and include some of the poorest areas of Timor-Leste.