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Seattle High Schoolers Help E Timor School

by Debra Morrison,

On April 8, 2005 a group of 10 NOVA high school students, along with our teacher, Joe Szwaja, and his wife Debra Morrison, traveled to East Timor to visit our sister school, Kay Rala Secundaria, in Manatuto, Timor Leste. We lived with a family, walked to school with the students, learned languages from each other, and shared the life of the people of the town and countryside. For all of us, it was 10 days of amazing experiences, beautiful scenery, intense heat, and treasured friendships. The kindness we were shown by the students and teachers of Kay Rala, as well as the citizens of Manatuto, was overwhelming and life-changing for all of us.

Students prepared a Traditional Feast for our Greeting Ceremony  

Students prepared a Traditional Feast for our Greeting Ceremony


Ashley Barnard, who is graduating from NOVA this year, provided the energy to make this connection. She followed leads and e-mailed dozens of folks, trying to find a way to connect with a sister school in Timor Leste. Finally, she found the ALOLA Foundation, an organization founded by Kirsty Sword Gusmao, the wife of President Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao. The sister school program at ALOLA had been connecting elementary schools in Timor Leste with Australian schools since 2000, but NOVA is the first American school, and the first high school in the program. Through ALOLA Ashley found Kay Rala Secundaria, named after the President, and recently awarded a grant to build in Manatuto. So the relationship began, and NOVA students began raising money to support the school, along with a community organization, Seattle-East Timor Relief Association (SETRA). Over the next couple of years the combined groups raised over $7,000 for the school.

Making this trip was the result of lots of hard work. Students and parents helped with fundraising, and students took a year long class to learn the turbulent history and ancient culture of Timor. We all learned a little Tetun, the national language. We endured planning meetings, shots for Diptheria and Japanese Encephalitis, malaria medications, and HOURS of airplane travel.
NOVA student travelers follow in the footsteps of other East Timor Action Network (ETAN)-Seattle and SETRA members, including some who went to observe the referendum vote in 1999; some who went to participate in Independence celebrations in 2002, and several students and faculty at the University of Washington. Megan Lavelle, a UW student, made a connection with HIAM Health Clinic, a malnutrition and hospice care program in Dili, the capital. The NOVA students had the honor to visit the clinic, and deliver $1000 from SETRA Timorese coffee sales to help sustain HIAM Health child malnutrition programs.

Our 7 days in Manatuto were filled with adventures, friendships, and sorrow. During our stay, the town's only and much loved priest, who had been in Manatuto since 1996, died of Dengue Fever. Despite their grief, the people of the town included us in their mourning, and we participated in some of the many masses that lasted for 3 days before the funeral. Their graciousness made us feel privileged to be able to share their sorrow.

A field trip with Kay Rala students to see the Presidentís childhood home in Laleia

A field trip with Kay Rala students to see
the Presidentís childhood home in Laleia.

Our days at the school stretched over a week, and our friendships grew each day. Sharing languages, learning new songs and games, making art together, and playing basketball, all helped us forge bonds that will not soon be forgotten.

We took a field trip with some of the students over the weekend, to Laleia, the home of President Xanana Gusmao's father. We met with some former guerillas and heard many stories of hardship from people we met. We also visited the small village of Kribas, over 20 kilometers from the school, where some of the students attending Kay Rala live. And wherever we went, there was laughter, music and smiling children.


The funeral of Kay Rala student, Tomas.


We saw first hand how the great victory of their recent hard-won independence shone through in the smiles and the songs of the people everywhere we went. We saw first hand that life in Timor Leste continues to be very hard. One of our last days in Manatuto a student at Kay Rala, Tomas, died of Dengue, and once again the NOVA students were welcomed to the funeral proceedings with the gracious generosity that characterize the people of Timor Leste even in the face of such great sorrow.

The people of Timor Leste have suffered so much, and continue to face incredible challenges to their new democracy. The students and parents of the NOVA Sister School project hope we can make a contribution to their future prosperity as a nation and provide some small measure of reparations by continuing our support for the Kay Rala school. Kay Rala has a beautiful new building, but not much else. No desks or tables, and none of the supplies we expect to see in an American high school. NOVA students are continuing a student sponsorship program to provide tuition ($40/year), desks, books, science equipment, school supplies, musical instruments, language cassettes, dictionaries, and transportation for students from the outlying villages.
Student travelers included: Maren Wenzel, Ashley Barnard, Ann Hashimoto, Ciron Wade, Jay Blackinton, Saige Esmaili, Vincent Scott, Evan Rodd, Lucas Powers, and Ramona Freeborn.
For more information, call:
Debra Morrison, 206-523-3656
Joe Szwaja, 206-523-3278
Ashley Barnard, 206-932-5639
NOVA Sister School Project

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