Rofina’s story from Timor Leste

Rofina’s story from Timor Leste

Featured image: Rofina and one of her English students

By Michele & Gabby Rankin

International Day for Rural Women recognizes the critical role and contribution of rural women in households and communities. Rofina’s story highlights the significant contributions she is making to the development of her local community as a result of building on her strengths through long-term mentoring.

The importance of long-term mentoring

Strong female role models are important in the small, rural communities like Balibo. Rofina was always a strong female but through 6 plus years of training, mentoring, and establishing relationships, Rofina has become a strong female leader and role model. She is a testament to the benefits of listening to community needs, fortifying local skills and capabilities, and establishing long-term relationships with communities.

Mentoring begins

In 2013, Rofina Aifuan was a newly married local Timorese woman beginning work at the Balibo 5 Community Learning Centre (CLC). At the request of the local Board Members of the Balibo 5 Association, Leanne Hayes became CLC’s first ever PALMS Australia volunteer. This marked the start of Rofina’s journey with PALMS.

Equipped with foundational literacy and numeracy skills but a lack of access to training, Leanne engaged on improving Rofina’s finance and interpersonal skills.  Over Leanne’s 2.5 year placement, Rofina developed the rudimentary skills necessary for her role as finance and administration officer. She learnt a little English, she could complete a basic spreadsheet, collate and submit basic reports required by international sponsors, the Balibo House Trust.  Rofina could also adeptly coordinate and run the TAIS shop on behalf of the local Women’s cooperative. PALMS established itself as a trusted partner to Balibo and Rofina established herself as part of the CLC team.  

Working towards a Leadership role

In 2016, Rofina had become a mother of one. Michele Rankin, Balibo’s second PALMS volunteer, begun her role as an Institutional Development Officer. The Centre was quickly evolving with both a dental clinic and cafeteria being built, and Rofina’s role would need to expand with it.

Rofina preparing the Cafe

Being quite adept at finance and administration duties, Rofina demonstrated great potential through her learning agility, ability to delegate, influence and integrity. Her commitment to the community and desire to learn was a delicate balance with her personal commitments. Despite the challenges Rofina set about improving her hard and soft skills knowledge working her way towards a Leadership role.  

Rofina became familiar with strategic documents and reporting, she started to network with local and international partners, helped organise the logistics for the new initiatives, and she started to learn basic marketing skills. Her English improved as a result of her liaison roles.  Rofina, a mother, wife, and CLC employee, had progressed a long way in 4 years. Michele, like Leanne, left Balibo having learnt strength and determination from the woman she had mentored.

Building on English skills to expand capacity

In 2019, Michele returned to Balibo with her daughter Gabby. Rofina had another child and CLC was, as always, rapidly expanding to meet the needs of the community. Gabby set the task to improve Rofina’s English speaking skills due to her increasing role in networking and liaising with international groups and partners. Her English skills advanced exponentially and she began to assist in teaching class.

Having gained the respect of local leaders, she started liaising with key members of the community more frequently and often acted as translator in meetings. Amongst her peers she was Bin, the respectful term for an older sister. The moniker money bags also followed her around, and she is now mentoring the Women’s sewing group and Balibo Trails tour guides around all aspects of financial accountability.

Leadership roles

Rofina is now able to use her skills and capabilities to step into more leadership roles. She became manager of the Balibo Women’s Centre that over arches 3 separate programs and also became one of the first community-based Days for Girls Ambassador in Timor-Leste.

Rofina becomes a Days for Girls Ambassador

And, despite the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rofina is continuing to maintain programs. This includes the community English classes, project manager for overseeing the building of the Women’s Centre and the Days for Girls Health management information sessions.

Michele and Gabby continue to mentor Rofina and others in the Balibo 5 Community Learning Centre remotely and are keen to return to Timor Leste to continue their partnership as soon as possible.