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 (LGV) 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, thanks to our generous supporters, LGS opened its doors in May 2015, and in 2017 LGV now has two Green Villas, an Organic Farm and Restaurant, and Women’s Organic Farming Cooperative.
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, the first step towards realizing the Leublora Green Village..
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 that 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. These children are all too familiar with violence and haven’t been given the chance to understand what it means to nurture and love.
LGV was founded to raise Timor-Leste’s leaders of tomorrow and serve as a model of sustainable development. 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 Village (LGV) is located in Timor-Leste, a country that shares the island of Timor with Indonesian West Timor.
It 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, organic agriculture and sustainable development.
Leublora Green Village is built on a 18,000m2 plot of land that Bella inherited from her grandfather, in Maubisse.
Its cornerstone project, Leublora Green School 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:
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.
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 LGV 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 and they have even secured further donations. 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 LGV’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.
The Leublora Green Village has 6 features:
Of these six, five have been realized thanks to Earth Company’s donors and partners. Can you can help them complete the picture, and expand the model across Timor-Leste?
Green School: The cornerstone of the Green Village. Opened in May 2015.
Green Villas: Thanks to donations from Japan made through Earth Company, LGV 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.
LGV 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 be replicated and serve as a model for sustainable development across the country in all 13 municipalities.
In March 2018, Earth Company’s official support period came to a close. While we have endeavoured to ensure that she is in the best possible position to continue her inspiring work, if you are interested in supporting her and LGV, please get in touch with us at [email protected], or with LGV directly, via their website.
You can also support Earth Company’s continued work to support Impact Heroes and their work directly via our donation page.
Required to establish the LGS Training Center
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I would like to take this chance to show my deepest appreciation to all of you for the support you have given us along the way.
Three years have passed since LGV was founded thanks to all your support, guidance and generosity. Today, Timor-Leste has one and only green school for children, a restaurant that serves organic food grown by the students, women organic farming cooperative that provides them with the new possibility of life, and finally an eco-friendly hotel which opened in May 2017.
In the green school, we have more than 600 students and we see a lot of changes in them, their families, and their way of living. Because of the nutritious food we provide, we see a lot more children with smiles and in good health. Also, children have started to understand and articulate how important it is to take care of the environment. They play, study and fully enjoy their lives – something we never saw in the past. The LGV team is working together very hard to make a positive change in the lives of the children and women in rural Timor.
All of these happened because of your kind heart caring for people you have never even met. I’ve not had the chance to meet you in person but you have met us through your beautiful heart and actions. For that, we will not stop showing our appreciation toward all of you for bringing so much prosperity to Timor-Leste. Now, we are looking forward to the day that you will visit us in Timor-Leste and see all the progress you and we have made together here.
Again, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to all of you for believing in us and giving us the opportunity to make our dream come true. Timor is very proud to have LGV and its programs that have changed so many lives. We will keep up the good work to make our world a better place for us all and the generations to come.
With all my heart,
ー Bella Galhos
who have supported LGV alongside Earth Company