Blackheath woman sets up learning centre in East Timor

Personal aid program: Libby Bleakley with a young child in East Timor. The former police officer has set up a community centre in Dili.

Personal aid program: Libby Bleakley with a young child in East Timor. The former police officer has set up a community centre in Dili.

Libby Bleakley endured more than most during the first couple of decades of life: The sudden death of her young mother, violent relationships, early losses of a brother and sister, a night of despair where she considered taking her own life.

The Blackheath woman's book, On A Mission, gives a very brief precis of the horrors of her early life. But its bulk concentrates on her deployments as a member of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to the Northern Territory, Sudan and East Timor.

It was the latter country that ultimately changed the course of her life.

"I just fell in love with the place and the people," she said. "I loved it so much I asked to go back."

I just fell in love with the place and the people.

Libby Bleakley

Ms Bleakley's second visit, with the United Nations mission, inspired her to build a learning centre in Dili.

She raised $300,000 to create the centre, which combines English language classes, a gym and sewing classes and has already made a difference, particularly to the young people of the area.

Ms Bleakley spent 19 years as a NSW police officer before transferring to the AFP. She specialised in domestic violence, sexual abuse, child abuse, victim support and Indigenous issues.

In 2008, she joined the AFP's international deployment group, and her several missions introduced her to Indigenous Australians, Muslim Sudanese and the "beautiful people" of Timor-Leste.

"The reason I built the centre is I saw the waste of money," she said. "Governments think they're doing the right thing ... but we waste billions because we don't consult with the community.

"I asked."

One of the things she heard was the desire to learn English and demand for places at her centre is high. It has 120 students and two teachers.

The gym aimed to get boys off the street - and it has worked, particularly with gangs of youths who, instead of fighting each other, are now friends.

The third component - the sewing centre - employs five Timorese women who now earn more money than their husbands making aprons and bags which Ms Bleakley sells in Australia.

She needs to raise $40,000 a year to run the centre. She has started a coffee roasting business and now the book. She hopes On A Mission will help those, like her, who have survived trauma, pain and tragedy.

Mostly the book is about the people Ms Bleakley has met and worked with: "It's the love of the human spirit."

On A Mission will be launched at Blackheath Golf Club on Sunday, June 2 from 2-4pm. Tickets are $25 (includes afternoon tea) and are available at www.sncc.org.au.On A Mission is also available at the website, roasterswithaltitude.com.au.