In January a family from the fishing village of Teno built a simple shack on the church property here in Lospalos. It’s a simple place made of wood and corrugated iron panels roughly 30 feet long and 15 feet wide with a kitchen in the back. It has two bedrooms and a space in between. Ani, Arjelia and Meliana are living there. Two of them are middle school students and one is in high school. They’ve left home to live in a simple place where they draw their water out of a well and cook on an open fire. It’s a challenging way to live, but they’re doing it so that they can go to school.
If you live in rural Timor-Leste, education is a serious challenge. In a lot of rural villages there are elementary schools and some may even have a kindergarten. Larger villages may have middle schools, but high schools are only to be found in the larger towns. That means if you’re from a rural area and you want to go to school past elementary, you have to want it. Some kids walk long days in the morning darkness and the afternoon heat in order to study. Others are far enough away they have to find a place to live in a near-by town where there is a school. If you have family in that near-by town, no problem. You go live with them for several years until you finish high school. If you don’t though, your parents have to find another way.
Not surprisingly, in a lot of rural areas, kids don’t continue after elementary or middle school. There is work to be done on the farm, keeping animals and helping their parents with chores. The village of Lisadila is an exception. Over a decade ago the Protestant Church in Timor Leste (IPTL) invited Global Ministries to partner with them in building a middle school in this remote place. The community saw the need and several families in the church offered four hectares of land. Global Ministries worked hard to raise the funds and build the school. Managing it has been a challenge for IPTL; bureaucratic hurdles, the remote location and difficulty with water to name a few. But it’s a good example of what mission partnership can be. Global Ministries has continued to work with IPTL to run the school and over the past decade hundreds of students have graduated.
Recently 3 new classrooms were added and another 3 are under construction. But a question remains. In a place like this, what’s education for? Education is always good of course but we also should be asking what kind of education makes sense in a given context. Especially here in this rural Timorese context where most of these students will return to village life after graduating, standardized rote learning may not be the kind of thing that leads to a better life. Adding a vocational component however — one where students learn and practice practical life skills — may make a lot of sense. We’ll see. This year together with IPTL staff, we hope to do a simple study to measure the effect the school is having on the local community. With those insights we’ll be able to make plans and move into the future.