While her prime minister husband Xanana was busy attempting to form a coalition government after recent elections, Kirsty Sword Gusmao was on her second visit to Katoomba in four years last week as part of a fund-raising tour for her adopted country’s national literacy project.
More than 115 guests attended a one-hour interview with the wife of East Timor’s prime minister by Gregg Borschmann for ABC Radio National on Friday, July 13.
Held at the Carrington Hotel, the event was hosted by Blue Mountains East Timor Sisters and raised more than $10,000 for the cause.
Mrs Sword Gusmao — a founder of the Alola Foundation for East Timor and appointed the nation’s Goodwill Ambassador for Education and chairperson of the National Commission for Education — said the literacy project was part of a massive effort in East Timor to build and repair school buildings, train teachers and produce educational materials for people in their native tongues.
She said particular effort was being applied to ensure equal access to education for all Timorese, the most vulnerable in society being girls.
“Through my work with the Alola Foundation visiting women in villages around East Timor, the message from them that kept on being repeated again and again was that they wanted the means to improve their lives,” she said.
“Through Alola we’ve had some very good outcomes like reducing the rate of infant mortality by half in the last 10 years.
“A recent study showed the majority of kids in East Timor took until grade three or four to [start to] read and write and so I believe we need to build a strong foundation first in [teaching children their] mother tongue and then a more international language like Portuguese or English.
“I think a bi-lingual language policy is the key to kids’ acquisition of literacy.
“The current struggle for East Timor’s native languages, for me, is a battle for social justice.”
Melbourne-born Kirsty recalled how she met Xanana while teaching him English in the early 1990s while he was serving a 20-year prison sentence in Jakarta for leading resistance to the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Their relationship blossomed when they moved to East Timor and married in 2000.
“One of the things I’ve learnt from Xanana in terms of reconciliation [for the East Timorese] was the message to not constantly remind them of what’s gone on in the past but to give them hope for the future,” said Mrs Sword Gusmao.
“I thank you all for coming tonight, it is great being here again and my three children have had a marvellous time in the Blue Mountains in the last few days — they were counting down the days to this trip.
“People have said I’ve had an extraordinary life, but I think I’ve had many opportunities come my way and I’ve just said yes to them all and had the courage to follow my convictions.”
For more information about Blue Mountains East Timor Sisters, visit www.bmets.org.au.