Viqueque Friendship House.

Not long after Timor-Leste gained independence in 2001 Christian College established a Friendship House in Viqueque, which created the first formal link between Geelong and the Viqueque District. In 2007 Peter Cannon and wife Tricia Blane travelled from Geelong to Dili, across the mountains to Viqueque with two staff members of Christian College. It was a long trip, and one which they made another 12 times.

Viqueque Scholarship Ceremony.

On all of their visits they became fully aware of the value young people and their parents placed on education. It was quite amazing and uplifting to see students in very large numbers walking long distances to and from school, six days a week. Whilst in the classroom they also noted how attentive they were. Their school buildings were neglected, with almost no resources. In many situations the teachers were keen but had limited training, some being volunteers.

Both Peter and Tricia were retired school teachers with Peter being Principal of St Joseph’s College for a number of years. In retirement it was not surprising they both thought that they could support education in Timor-Leste and were key players in establishing Geelong Viqueque Friendship Schools (GVFS) in 2007, which is very active today. The group is the umbrella for a number of Geelong primary and secondary schools across the three sectors Government, Private and Catholic that have direct links with their partner schools in Timor-Leste. Over the years the following Geelong schools have made visits to Timor-Leste: Geelong High School, Kardinia International College, Christian College, Geelong Grammar School, St Joseph’s College, Clonard College, Sacred Heart College and St Ignatius College.

Even though the school visits are on hold for 2022, the scholarship program established some 15 years ago continues to grow. Students supported with scholarships come from very poor families and thus continuation of their education is restricted by their financial circumstances. In 2021 GVFS sponsored 63 students at US$100 secondary or $150 tertiary.  The principals select students based upon academic performance and financial need. The scholarships partly cover tuition fees and basic school materials.

The following are three significant reasons why Peter and Tricia, and now many others have chosen to support Timor-Leste:

  • Our immediate neighbour is economically very poor. In 2020 its ranking on the United Nations Human Development Index was 141 (Australia 8). This index measures education, health and income.
    • A country which had extraordinary tragedies in gaining independence. For 25 years it was occupied by the Indonesians who left the country in a disastrous state.
    • A country whose people gave sustained support to Australian Soldiers in World War 2 during where some 100 Australians soldiers lost their lives along with and an estimated 40,400 Timorese. We owe them a great debt of honor.

If you wish to support the scholarship program and/or become involved with GVFS then find out more at https://geelong-viqueque.com.au/helping-us/  . Peter Cannon and Patricia Blane remain active and vital committee members to this day.

Viqueque walk to school.