We received this reflection from Meg Haynes, who with her friend, Anna Brooks, spent some time at the Maubara orphanage earlier this year. Both are ex-students of Radford College in Canberra. Meg is keen to keep contact with the orphanage and, hopefully, build a relationship between the orphanage and young people there. We thought Meg’s note was so lovely we share it with you below.

Education is the only weapon which can be used to break the poverty cycle. Neither monetary nor material donations can pull one from poverty, only the steady steps of knowledge enable one to climb out.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to spend a month at Maubara Orphanage, the home of 35 Timorese girls aged between seven and sixteen. My journey was arranged in a very Timorese fashion; incredibly friendly emails that somehow always neglected dates, times and other specifics. Nonetheless myself and my friend Anna turned up on the orphanage doorstep to very welcoming, if somewhat surprised arms.

We arrived with no set tasks for the following month, only the vague notion of being able to help in menial tasks such as cooking and cleaning. Our help was politely refused. Upon reflection this is not surprising, it would be a poorly run establishment if they were desperately awaiting the ‘help’ of two young unskilled malae girls.

Despite our minimal Tetun skills we were given the task of teaching the children English. They are desperate to learn – half an hour before our first lesson was to begin Anna and I were dragged to the classroom so eager where they to commence. Many hours were passed simply pointing at objects and comparing the names in Tetun and English. Every study period the younger students who did not receive homework would demand maths questions. Their desire to learn was phenomenal and incomparable to most Australian children who view their education as a right not a privilege – as it should be.

Whilst I do not delude myself believing my short lived influence will greatly change the lives of the children at Maubara Orphanage, I know that I played an important role during my time there. Only six nuns operate the orphanage and their time is limited by other responsibilities in the community. The kids are by no means neglected, they are simply at an age where individual attention is both craved and necessary for their personal development. My presence allowed this. I had no commitments and copious amounts of free time to spend with them. It was often exhausting attempting to be friend, sister, mother, teacher and mediator all at once but I know they valued our time together enormously, as did I. We learnt from each other, expanding our horizons towards Australia, Timor Leste, English, Tetun, mathematics, art and geography.

Now, having left three months ago I am desperate to return. My desire is fuelled by selfishness; quite simply I miss the children. Far more important than my sentiments is the prospects of the children. I wish to establish an ongoing relationship between Maubara Orphanage and Australia, enabling other people to travel to Timor and play the same role I did. I believe that continued support of the children will provide them with greater confidence and knowledge, ultimately helping them gain the skills necessary to change their own circumstances.

Meg Haynes