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The small jet plane was drawing closer to Timor-Leste, and the mountains began to rise up and come into focus before me as I looked out of the small passenger window. Lush, green jungle seemed to cover every inch of the approaching mountains and then suddenly the plane began to descend, and the mountains were now below me as the pilot directed the plane into a broad sweep of the distant ocean. We seemed to travel in a huge circle over the deep blue sea before once again the mountains around Dili came into view.

Far below us could be seen a thin strip of civilisation close to the beachfront. The pilot straightened up his approach and his aircraft descended rapidly to a small runway that shared facilities with the International Stabilisation Force.

Welcome signs and directions seemed to line the runway as passengers disembarked from the aircraft and made their way across the tarmac to the modest immigration and customs building. I had arrived in Timor-Leste and Rev. Albino de Costa, General Secretary of the IPTL (Igréja Protestante iha Timor Lorosa’e -- The Protestant Church in East Timor), was waiting for me as I exited customs.

The purpose of my visit was to be the ACWC link to the CCA (Christian Conference of Asia) and the IPTL during the evaluation of the WEAVE Project. WEAVE had almost finished its two-year term and I was to accompany the evaluator, Mr. Leo Bashyam, engaged by the CCA to ascertain the project’s success in training, supporting and empowering women for leadership in the church. I was to speak with women from the IPTL who were being equipped by the WEAVE programmes, and then report my observations of WEAVE to Leo.

As we travelled the short distance to my accommodation, I was surprised that wherever I looked there were the ruins of conflict. I found it difficult to comprehend that such widespread devastation was still so visible. It was nearly ten years after the Indonesian military and local militia gangs had responded brutally to the people of Timor-Leste when they voted for independence from Indonesia. Added to that initial destruction was the more recent effects of the civil war in 2006.

At the end of my short three-day stay I came to understand that Timor-Leste was impoverished and there had been little money for rebuilding people’s lives never alone buildings. However, change and redevelopment was slowly on its way and a few very large billboards, that advertised multi-storey proposals in the city centre, were evidence of the confidence that investors have in the future of Timor-Leste.

As I looked at the results of war that this small nation had experienced, I was constantly reminded of the worth of a programme such as the WEAVE Project, and its aim to equip women leaders living in and with the results of conflict in their region. My interest was growing in how the local women were participating in this ecumenical project and what steps had been made to equip them as leaders, particularly in a patriarchal and fractured society.

My first opportunity to meet with the Christian women of Timor-Leste and to see the benefits of the WEAVE Project came later that day at a training seminar organised by Dominica Faurillo. Dominica is the CCA WEAVE accompanier who ‘walks with the women’ as she helps to equip them for leadership.

Nearly thirty women had gathered from the various districts for a training seminar on HIV /AIDS. The facilitators of this course were Dr Erlinda Senturias, Consultant on HIV and AIDS / CCA and Liza Lamis, Communications Consultant / CCA. There was opportunity to interview the local women and many said they were grateful for the seminar. They also remarked they would be able to use their training and pass on this knowledge to women in their district.

Throughout my brief stay in Dili I was given more opportunities to speak with the women of the IPTL. I was also fortunate to interview a woman NGO manager from the Philippines who endorsed the WEAVE Project. This lady had also kindly offered her support to Dominica in meeting the WEAVE objectives.

Some achievements of WEAVE in Timor-Leste
Dominica had a plan of action as she visited women and advised and taught them about women’s issues and rights as recorded in Scripture. Bible study for women was a priority and the aim was to conduct this activity whenever the women met for training. This women’s perspective was a revelation for many of her listeners and it has provided them with motivation to become more involved in the church.

The number of women attending local churches has also increased after Dominica visited their region.

Women’s committees have been formed and they have begun to network and visit one another. The local women have begun to recognise that as they cooperate with one another they can be agents of change in their communities.

Women leaders are beginning to receive invitations to participate in other types of training e.g. MYOB financial training.

Sunday School has been introduced and the training of Sunday School leaders is taking place with the aim of developing second-generation leaders.

The project and its objectives have been accepted and commended by the IPTL. Training has gradually been implemented as the benefits of equipping and empowering women for leadership has been recognised. Sustainability of the accomplishments when the WEAVE project concludes has been noted by the IPTL leadership as a priority issue.

WEAVE is giving the women a vision for the future and an understanding of the role of women in the church. The local women of the IPTL expressed their thanks for the support they have received and the leadership vision that has been imparted to them.

However, the women expressed concern about the need for a further period of accompaniment as they develop their leadership skills and build on their achievements. They look forward to the day when local Christian women can take on the role of empowering and accompanying other women to fill leadership positions in the church.

Thank you

My sincere thanks to Rev. Moises Antonio da Silva, Moderator of IPTL; Rev. Albino de Costa, General Secretary of IPTL; Rev. Juliana Temparaja, Vice Secretary of IPTL Synod; Dominica Faurillo, CCA WEAVE accompanier; Leocadia’s Jesus, local women’s leader; and Nina Naoyan, WSCF-AP-FIM intern from Indonesia, for their gracious hospitality and openness in sharing their views on the success of the WEAVE Project in Timor-Leste.
Nina Naoyan, WSCF-AP-FIM intern, introduces visitors to the seminar participants. Rev. Albino de Costa, General Secretary of IPTL, in the foreground.


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