Notre Dame students experience the world and help those in need in Timor-Leste

Notre Dame students and Caritas Australia representatives at a sustainable agriculture centre in Same.

Phoebe Whittington collects coffee beans with locals in the town of Same.

31 August 2016

“Eye opening”, “awe-inspiring”, “humbling” and “rewarding” were how Notre Dame students described their recent service learning trip to Timor-Leste.

Students from The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Fremantle Campus travelled to Timor-Leste for a 10-day immersion trip in July 2016 as part of Notre Dame’s Experience the World program, with support from Caritas Australia.

Each student received a $3000 scholarship, funded by the Commonwealth Government’s New Colombo Plan, which saw them collaborate with locals at women’s shelters, in agriculture and alongside educational partners in Timor-Leste.

The trip highlighted the importance of a strengths-based approach to social justice and community development. Students took part in day-to-day activities performed by the Timorese community, such as gathering coffee in the steep hillside plantations and harvesting vegetables, including peanut crops.

Bachelor of Behavioural Science / Bachelor of Arts (Social Justice and Politics) student, Phoebe Whittington, is passionate about social justice and sustainable community development and was drawn to the opportunity. She said the experience of working with Timorese women clearing a plot of land, which had been secured for them with the assistance of Caritas, was both eye-opening and humbling.

“Seeing the sheer workload this group of women were having to undertake was hard to swallow. Despite the challenging environment, we were constantly overwhelmed by the warmth, generosity and hospitality of the Timorese people,” Phoebe said.

“The bonds formed throughout the immersion left us all with a strong sense of solidarity. The friendships formed also enabled us to gain deep and personal insights into the challenges they face and a sense of what it is actually like to live in a vulnerable community.”

Lisa Calautti, a Bachelor of Arts (Environmental Science and Archaeology) student, was drawn to the immersion experience to find out how Timor-Leste dealt with the issues of climate change, sustainable agriculture, reconciliation and peacebuilding.

“One of the stand-out factors of the trip was the amazing strength of the human spirit being highlighted. Through visiting their country, meeting people, and seeing how hard they have worked to re-establish their nation and lives was awe-inspiring to say the least,” Lisa said.

“We travelled with Caritas and witnessed the great work their partners are doing in communities, using a strengths-based approach. It is only a small slice of life in Timor-Leste that we experienced, but it was enough to show forth the resilience, determination and dignity of these people.”

Associate Professor Dylan Korczynskyj, Course Coordinator of Science in the School of Arts & Sciences, travelled with the students to Timor-Leste. He said this immersion experience built on the School’s commitment to social justice and hands-on learning, consistent with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

“This project allows students to explore themes of culture, language and social justice via exposure to the real-life context of the Timorese communities challenged by poverty and associated issues,” Associate Professor Korczynskyj said.

“Students had the opportunity to visit community-based programs supported by Caritas Australia that addressed issues such as peacebuilding and reconciliation, climate change adaptation, food and water security, sustainable agriculture, and institutional strengthening of community-based organisations.

“Ultimately, the School of Arts & Sciences is an advocate for experiential learning evidenced by its incorporation of practice into our courses alongside theory. The Experience the World program is a single expression of this commitment.”

To find out more or to apply direct please visit
Applications for Semester 1, 2017 are due 30 September 2016.

Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093;