In September 2015, I was honoured to receive an “Order of Australia” for service to relations between Timor-Leste and Australia in the education sector, as well as being an advocate for improved health and living conditions for the Timorese people. This is an honour I share very much with my colleagues at Fundasaun Alola who have been on the frontline of the battle against poverty, ignorance, discrimination and ill health in Timor-Leste since 2001. I also consider it to be recognition of the vital bonds of friendship and solidarity that connect the people of our two countries.
I continue to be extremely proud of the work Alola does and of the leadership it exercises in advocating for the rights of women and girls. The strategic planning process the team engaged in at the beginning of 2015 has reaffirmed a focus on advocacy on the most important issues affecting women and girls, improving the quality of and access to education, expanding maternal and child health services at the grassroots level and boosting women's economic empowerment and independence.
Yet again this year, I was pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the inspirational work of Alola Australia through its annual MILK campaign, a fund-raising afternoon tea aimed at raising money and awareness in support of Fundasaun Alola's maternal and child health (MCH) work. This year I was joined by Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, Ms Natasha Stott Despoja AM, in a conversation on life for women and girls in Timor-Leste. Against the backdrop of the beautiful Windsor Hotel, we discussed, amongst other things, some personal perspectives on the issue of women's political participation and the challenges of improving the health of mothers and babies in a context where educational levels are low. The afternoon tea attracted a large crowd including many new faces and some long-standing Alola supporters.
In September 2015 in New York, the world's leaders agreed upon a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals to guide our efforts at raising living standards and removing barriers to equality and equity in our world. Alola is working in areas that address at least 7 of these goals, including ensuring equitable quality education for all, ending poverty and improving nutrition. In addition, Alola in both Timor and Australia have participated in the campaign to urge the Australian government to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste. In addition to being a basic sovereign right of the people of Timor-Leste, it also lies at the heart of Sustainable Development Goal number 10 relating to reducing inequality within and between countries.
Viva Timor-Leste! Viva Alola! (Long live, Timor-Leste, long live Alola!)
Kirsty Sword Gusmão