Finally liberated in 2002, Timor-Leste’s people and land have been decimated by occupation and war. Severely affected by decades of conflict, the people of Timor-Leste have been deprived of the ability to love, care, nurture, or even how to hold ambitions for a brighter future. Though the country’s past is grim, Bella’s willingness for self-sacrifice in the name of her country knows no bounds. She decided to build the Leublora Green School (LGS) and Green Village to ensure a better future for the children of Timor-Leste. Drawn by her bottomless passion and energy, Earth Company chose to support Bella in her efforts, and we are pleased to announce that LGS opened its doors in May 2015.
Bella was born in Timor-Leste in 1972. The Indonesian military invaded Timor-Leste when Bella was 3 years old. She lost her brothers, whilst her father was detained by the military. Bella herself was sold by her own father for a mere 5 dollars, and was later forcefully injected with a contraceptive drug by the Indonesian military, leaving her unable to have children. Aged 16, Bella joined the resistance, spending her adolescence fighting for her country’s liberation.
In 1991, many of Bella’s friends were killed or captured in the Santa Cruz massacre. Bella herself narrowly escaped death, and it was then that she realized that the only way she would be able to help her country would be to escape it. However, as a Timorese, Bella wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country. So instead, Bella plotted her escape, going undercover and enlisting in the Indonesian military, leading a double life for the next three years.
In a test of her loyalty, Bella was forced to endure all kinds of sexual and physical assault, but after three years she finally managed to persuade the Indonesian government to send her as a pro-Indonesia representative to Canada. Once safely there, she promptly defected and successfully claimed asylum. Twenty-two at the time, Bella spent the next six years raising awareness of the situation in Timor-Leste and supporting the resistance movement from Canada.
When Timor-Leste was finally liberated, Bella returned to work for a UN agency to take on the huge task of rebuilding her country from scratch. However, having been occupied for almost 5 centuries, Timor-Leste was in a grave state. In order to better understand the best way in which to lay the foundations for her country, Bella enrolled at the University of Hawaii to study Psychology. On her return to Timor-Leste, Bella became an Advisor to the President. Whilst maintaining this position, she managed to focus a huge amount of energy and her own personal funds on establishing the Leublora Green School.
Bella is an outstanding individual, who, despite (and perhaps even because of) the horrors she has faced in her life, has unbelievable conviction, blazing passion and an absolute determination to make a difference. Tomo and I, Earth Company’s Co-Founders, first met Bella in 2008. From that time, we were certain we wanted to give Bella the support she needed in order to realize her vision, and we started off supporting her in whatever ways we could. We established Earth Company when we decided to support Bella more formally. She was, in fact, our first Impact Hero – a title created with Bella in mind. Bella was the inspiration for our work in empowering Impact Heroes.
After more than four centuries of Portuguese rule, Timor-Leste experienced 24 years of Indonesian occupation that resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people and the complete destruction of the country’s infrastructure. Timor-Leste is the poorest country in Asia with an average GDP per capita of $1,900 and with half of the population living in extreme poverty.
As the country is heavily dependent on oil which is predicted to run out in 30 years, it is crucial to find a more sustainable economic model. Education holds the key to this.
Half of Timor-Leste’s population is under 15 years of age and the current education system cannot meet their needs. Many adults are not interested in their children’s education and development, and it’s not unusual to see children roaming the streets at 2am. These children are all too familiar with violence and haven’t been given the chance to understand what it means to nurture and love.
LGS was founded to raise Timor-Leste’s leaders of tomorrow. Right now the country needs to invest in its people, providing the next generation of leaders with the intellect and emotional intelligence that they’ll need to lead the country into a better sustainable future.
By decades of conflict, not only was the natural environment almost completely decimated in Timor-Leste, but communities and families were torn apart, leaving little room for meaningful or trusting relationships.
Though the people of Timor-Leste have lost so much, the loss of the ability to nurture may be the greatest loss of all.
This in itself may be one of the reasons the country still overflows with various social challenges, from extreme poverty, malnutrition, and violence against women and children, to a lack of education, high unemployment rate and environmental degradation.
By giving children the chance to engage with nature, LGS aims to teach them how to care and nurture, setting them on a journey towards a brighter future. As the above quote by Stephen Ritz captures, environmental education has the power to transform children’s emotional capacity. Nature nurtures.
This is a crucial time for Timor-Leste. So recently independent, the potential for the country is great. So is the potential impact of LGS at a time when an innovative approach to learning and development is exactly what is required.
The Leublora Green School (LGS) is located in Timor-Leste, a country that shares the island of Timor with Indonesian West Timor.
The school is built on a plot of land in the highland sub-district of Maubisse, 3 hours from the capital Dili.
Though Maubisse has a few basic facilities such as a hospital and school, there are no public facilities, hotels, or restaurants. The vast majority of its population engage in agriculture and live a simple, self-sufficient life.
Hidden in this beautiful mountainous terrain is a plateau which one might even mistake for the Swiss Alps. Surrounded by nature, this was the perfect location for building a school focused on environmental education.
LGS has been built on a 18,000m2 plot of land that Bella inherited from her grandfather, in Maubisse.
LGS is the first education facility in Timor-Leste dedicated to teaching and promoting sustainability and ecology in the country. While the aim is eventually to become an accredited school, currently it runs the following programs:
Green Programs: every weekend, the school runs programs for local children
Green Camps: during school holidays, primary school age students from around the country gather to take part in its Green Camps
The school also has an organic farm, botanical garden, campsite, playground, and a classroom in order for students to learn about the environment not only in a classroom setting but by experiencing holistic growth between body and mind by feeling nature with their five senses.
The school’s curriculum includes:
Protection of Endangered Species
Recycling & Waste Management
Organic Farming Methods
Timor-Leste has not yet adopted the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In many ways this is a blessing. LGS is teaching people how to improve crop yields and run businesses using organic farming methods with the aim of improving the community’s income and enabling them to escape poverty.
The organic farms at LGS are not only used to teach the farming methods and business skills to make a living; the fruit and vegetables grown on the farm are then fed to the students of the school, the healthy and nutritious organic food significantly improving their health and diet.
In Timor-Leste, educational opportunities are severely lacking. Even if kids want to learn, many families are still too poor to send their children to school. In this context, LGS offers a free environmental education, providing children the opportunity to learn essential life skills.
The Leublora Green Village has 6 features:
Green School: The cornerstone of the Green Village. Opened in May 2015.
Green Villas: Thanks to donations from Japan made through Earth Company, LGS opened two Green Villas in May 2017 as a means of generating income through eco-tourism and making the school financially sustainable.
Organic Farm: Opened at the same time as the school. As well as being an educational tool to teach the school’s students about organic farming, the vegetables and flowers produced on the farm are taken to the capital, Dili, to be sold, the proceeds from which go towards the running of the school.
Organic Restaurant: Another source of income for the school. Using organic vegetables produced at LGS and other local farms, the restaurant welcomed 2475 visitors in its first two years.
Women’s Agricultural Co-op: Promoting organic farming and providing livestock funded by overseas donations, the co-op helps local women achieve financial independence by facilitating the sale of their organic produce.
Community Training Center: Timor-Leste does not have a great number of skilled workers, and training opportunities provided by the government and international aid organizations are very much focused in the capital. To address the severe lack of opportunities in poverty-stricken rural areas, LGS is planning to build a center designed to help people from farming villages gain new skills.
LGS is the very first example of sustainable development in Timor-Leste. Once it has successfully become a financially sustainable social business, the government has expressed the desire for it to serve as a model for sustainable development across the country.
However, LGS still needs support in order to reach the point of financial sustainability. If you are interested in supporting the school’s efforts, financially or otherwise, please get in touch at [email protected].
Required to establish the LGS Training Center
Row saved for future reference if logo is needed
Earth Company starting fundraising for LGS in September 2014, and – having gathered donations from 74 individual donors – enabled the school to open its doors in May 2015. Since opening, LGS has made huge progress, and in the two years since opening has provided learning opportunities to approximately 700 students. LGS has also initiated exchange programs with other schools, and in 2017 opened their Green Villas with the aim of generating income and ensuring a sustainable business model.
Earth Company has worked to raise awareness of LGS and Bella’s work. For example, EC secured Bella’s spot as the first speaker for the first TEDxDili. As the video of her speech spread around the world, enquiries have poured in. Since opening, the school has had an influx of visitors, including the President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, high-level government officials, and visitors from around the world. Bella is now often invited to speak at UN conferences and is expanding her and LGS’s support base through all kinds of partnerships.
Having convinced Bella, who had no prior experience of managing an organization, the importance of learning how to do so, Earth Company has spent three years creating a management strategy for LGS together with Bella, coaching her in a wide variety of areas; from fundraising, information management and finance, to marketing and building a website. We have also just launched a support project for LGS in cooperation with a co-working space in Bali.
Thanks to your kind support the Leublora Green School has been established. I am truly grateful for the support this project has received, whether from individuals or organizations, material or financial donations.
LGS is a school that gives its student the gift of knowledge: of the environment, of sustainability and of practical agricultural skills.
However, even more than the knowledge itself, it’s all about love.
Our country has been broken once.
It will take time to see a change in adults’ mentality, but it’s not too late for our children.
Timor-Leste is still unstable, and as a country we face a great number of challenges.
But I believe that if we can teach our children to understand what it truly means to live a fulfilling life in harmony with nature, they will take this country forward, enabling it to develop in an environmentally sustainable and responsible manner.
ー Bella Galhos
$50,000+ (with intentions of long-term support)
$500+ | technical support | strategic partnership