Mentoring Mestra Elen: A Lesson in Sustainable Development

Mentoring Mestra Elen: A Lesson in Sustainable Development

By Anjelica Rankin. Feature image: Mestra Elen, Anjelica and Mestra Rofina.

Around 45 minutes from Balibo is Batugade, a sweltering border town. In this border town lives Mestra Elen, an enthusiastic kindergarten teacher.

I teach English in Balibo, but my role is focused on creating sustainable development. This means that, after I’m gone, other people will continue teaching English. Take, for example, my Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification that qualifies me to teach in Timor-Leste. One foreigner with a TEFL certificate isn’t sustainable. Wouldn’t it be more sustainable if someone like Elen had a TEFL certification?

Thanks to the family of Balibo 5 journalist Gary Cunningham, this isn’t a question but reality. The Cunninghams are sponsoring Elen and my English teacher assistant Rofina to be mentored by me through the TEFL program. This means that, after I leave, they will continue to teach English to their local communities.

Elen has a love of learning which is evident during TEFL training. She cheers each time there’s a quiz, asks for more classes during the week, and eagerly enquires about lesson plans and student behaviour management.

Sometimes, I worry if I’m making a big enough difference. But, with women like Elen, I know that I am not alone in creating a difference. Because that’s not my job – my job is to give other people the opportunity to make a difference themselves.

In another sweltering town, Ella (left) helps Elen (right) deliver her first Days for Girls session. They’re both one of ten newly qualified Days for Girls ambassadors and Ella is also helping me with English classes while Rofina is on maternity leave.

A Days For Girls session educates young girls about sexual health and menstruation. It can, understandably, be awkward. Delivering important information doesn’t always guarantee a receptive audience. I was prepared for another hour of giggling girls and ambassadors pulling answers out of them like teeth.

This session was unlike anything I’ve ever seen – both in Australia and Timor-Leste.

Not only were the girls paying attention, but they were asking questions and leading demonstrations. Girls even approached us afterwards with more queries and worries.

Ella and Elen, both women I’ve had the honour of mentoring, worked together to create safe environment to talk about a taboo topic, all while having fun and engaging with the students. I wish I had something as enjoyable and informative when I was at school.

After the session ended, I felt reassured. The people I was mentoring were paying forward everything they learnt – both from me and from all their other life experiences. Because sustainable development isn’t a solo adventure. It’s about giving the right opportunities to the right people – people who will continue to create change and inspire others to do the same. People like Elen.