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 Eco 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 Eco-Village has 6 features:
Green School: The cornerstone of the Eco-Village. Opened in May 2015.
Organic Farm: Opened at the same time as the school. Vegetables and flowers produced on the farm are taken to the capital, Dili. LGS even supplies some of the flowers used at government events.
Women’s Agricultural Co-op: Helping local women achieve independence by facilitating the sale of the organic produce they farm.
Organic Restaurant: Opened at the same time as the school. Using organic vegetables produced at LGS and other local farms, the restaurant welcomed 378 visitors in 2015.
Still to be completed are the Eco-Hotel and Training Center.
Although the proceeds from the restaurant and from selling the farm’s vegetables and flowers are currently going straight into supporting the school’s running costs, it’s not sufficient to fully maintain the school’s continued operations.
LGS aims to become a self-sustaining social business by using the profits generated by the Eco-Hotel and Training Center to support the running of the school.
Thanks in part to the US $49,600 Earth Company raised, LGS was able to build the school’s essential facilities, and it officially opened its doors in May 2015. Since then, Bella has used her own personal funds to expand these initial facilities, creating a landscape garden and expanding the school’s plantation areas. However, the school still lacks basic equipment and teaching materials. For example, the classrooms still don’t have chairs or tables, with the children sitting on the floor to learn. LGS continues to accept donations in order to help buy the equipment it needs.
Still required to complete the school’s facilities and provide equipment
Having only recently escaped such a long period of war and conflict, Timor-Leste does not have a great number of skilled workers. Though the government, a number of organizations and both domestic and international NGOs are offering workshops and training to address this, they tend to be focused in the capital, meaning that young people living in more rural areas don’t have the chance to gain new skills. The country needs training centers outside of the capital to combat the issues faced by young people in this country, issues which include a high crime rate, prostitution and drug abuse.
Required to establish the LGS Training Center
Though a number of Timor-Leste’s youth have been fortunate enough to receive scholarships to study tourism overseas, the sad reality is that, upon their return to Timor-Leste, there are few to no opportunities for work in tourism. As a result, many end up either returning to their hometown or staying in the capital, unemployed. This is a huge waste of skills that could otherwise contribute to the development of not only these individuals, but of their country too.
Bella’s vision for the Eco Hotel is to combine traditional architecture with renewable energy technologies, creating a facility that provides employment opportunities for and contributes to the healthy development of the local community. She also wants to showcase the hotel to other communities in Timor-Leste and beyond to demonstrate a live example of sustainable development can look like.
Required to build the Eco Hotel
Earth Company delivered LGS dedicated support between September 2014 and May 2015. In that time, we gathered donations from 74 individual donors, enabling LGS to build the minimum required for it to open the schools doors in May 2015. Since opening, LGS managed to welcome 127 students within its first year and initiated exchange programs with other schools.
Earth Company has worked to raise awareness of LGS and Bella’s work by generating coverage in various media outlets. In addition, EC has facilitated interviews with both domestic and overseas television broadcasters and connected the organization with new supporters.
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 been pouring 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 offered collaborations by other organizations like The Green School 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