Despite the multitude of hurdles and dangers she faces daily, Alma Nuns Sister Anastasia had been texting me frantically from her home in Timor-Leste.
‘Are you ok, Paulie? We are worried about you.’
The usually unflappable little nun was anxious about my health and well-being.
I mean, I’m fine. Locked down in comfortable isolation in Melbourne. She is the one facing a potential crisis and uncertain future. She is the one living in lockdown with hundreds of abandoned and disabled children in a facility with only basic equipment and resources and limited food and medical supplies.
Anastasia’s order, the Alma Nuns Sisters, has facilities scattered throughout Timor-Leste, Papua and Indonesia. She laughs and says the only good thing to come from the coronavirus are the new skills she has picked up during the lockdown.
‘I have played so much indoor soccer with the children that I will be able to play professionally for sure once this is all over.’
She then spoke about how much the nuns liked to practice their English and asked if I could help her with that.
I offered to do a Zoom conference with them and from that moment things took off.
Word got out about this exchange and now more than 25 Australians have Zoomed in to do voluntary workshops in basic English, art, yoga, story-telling, medical care, African culture and wildlife.
Amongst these were leading Just Voices story-teller Agum Malek and top rating ABC Radio presenter Jacinta Parsons.
Saint Ignatius College Geelong joins initiative
Students from Saint Ignatius College Geelong were due to visit the Jesuit school in Timor-Leste this year but had their trip postponed due to the coronavirus.
They jumped at the chance to stay in touch with their friends and now, thanks to teacher Alicia Deak, students from the school do a weekly English Zoom class.
‘Saint Ignatius College Geelong and the other three Catholic secondary schools in Geelong, all have a strong connection and relationship with Timor-Leste’, says Alicia.
‘Saint Ignatius visits Timor-Leste annually and is fortunate to also send two students to participate in the annual JACSA Timor-Leste Immersion. Paulie has visited our College and spoken to our staff and students about his relationship with Timor-Leste on multiple occasions.’
Two students who took part in last year’s JACSA Timor-Leste Immersion have been participating in the weekly Zoom sessions. Another two students will be joining them from this week, as the initiative continues to grow.
‘The immersion was a very special and transformative experience for them, so they are grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with Timor-Leste in some way’, says Alicia.
The Alma Nuns have visited Australia twice in recent years, presenting at a number of Jesuit and Jesuit Companion schools.
Two of the sisters were set to tour Australia in May as part of Just Voices program run by Jesuit Social Services, but had their visit cancelled because of the coronavirus.
The money that was going to be raised from the 12 different school workshops that made up this visit was a lot of their projected income for this year. This has now vanished.
Sister Anastasia says supplies were running low.
‘We have friends living near the market and we get them to buy food and water when we collect some money. If there is money’, she says.
Despite the difficulties they face, Sister Anastasia’s last words weren’t of concern for herself and she remains incredibly upbeat.
‘Please tell all of my friends in Australia to take care of themselves. For me, Melbourne is my second home because of its people’s kindness and the love they have given us.’
By Paulie Stewart
You can help the Sisters continue their work by sending donations to ‘Alma Nuns East Timor’ c/o Jesuit Mission, PO Box 193 North Sydney, NSW 2059.