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Ecumenical forum mourns Australian educator

Helen M. Hill taught at Victoria University in Melbourne and promoted human rights in the Asia Pacific region
Dr. Helen M. Hill

Dr. Helen M. Hill (Photo: Christian Conference of Asia)

Published: May 08, 2024 08:09 AM GMT
Updated: May 08, 2024 10:11 AM GMT

A leading Asian ecumenical forum has paid tribute to Dr. Helen M. Hill following the death of the Australian educator and ecumenist, who promoted human rights in the Asia Pacific regions for decades.

Hill died in Melbourne, Australia, on May 7 at the age of 79, the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) said in a statement.

Through her academic career and ecumenical enabler training programs, Hill was instrumental in developing the leadership skills of many young people in the Asia Pacific region as well as advocating for the rights and dignity of oppressed people in colonized countries, the group said.

“With Helen Hill’s passing, the Asia and the Pacific ecumenical communities have lost a committed and trusted advocate of social justice, crusader for decolonization and an ecumenical accompanier who stood with the oppressed and the marginalized people in Asia and the Pacific regions during their struggle for human rights and right to self-determination” CCA general secretary Mathews George Chunakara said.

He said Hill was a long-time friend and had been a fellow ecumenist for years since their student days through the Student Christian Movement (SCM), an affiliate of the World Student Christian Federation as well as through CCA and World Council of Churches youth programs.

Hill was a leading ecumenical figure closely associated with the global ecumenical movement, Chunakara said.

For more than two decades, Hill was a teacher at Victoria University in Melbourne where she introduced Pacific sociology units and BA degree courses on International Community Development, the CCA said.

She helped establish links with the University of the South Pacific in Fiji and the National University of East Timor in Timor-Leste, according to the university’s website.

She also began study tours for Victoria University students to the Beijing Women's Conference in 1995 and later to Fiji and Timor-Leste.

Hill was elected President of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies after organizing a successful conference in 2010. She was also one of the founders of the Melbourne Chapter of the Society for International Development, the university noted.

She taught units in Sociology of the Asian and Pacific regions, Management in non-government organizations, regional and international organizations and Women in International Development.

She assisted the university's work in Timor-Leste and in building links with Pacific Island universities.

In addition, she worked to bring together interdisciplinary research teams with interests in these regions. 

Hill supervised theses on topics related to Timor-Leste, where she worked for decades. The subjects included Timorese identity and the role of the media, the role of young people in civil society in Timor-Leste, the role of the Australian media in Timorese Politics, and vocational education and food sovereignty in Timor-Leste.

She carried out consultancy work on gender issues in the Pacific Islands, in Timor-Leste and in Tanzania, and advised the National University of East Timor on their curriculum and teaching methods. 

Hill was one of leading rights activists involved in international advocacy for the independence of Timor Leste, CCA said.

The tiny Catholic-majority nation, a former Portuguese colony, gained independence in 2002 from Indonesia following decades of occupation and a brutal war of independence.

Hill’s postgraduate degree thesis was on decolonization in Portuguese Timor, and this led her, after Timor-Leste's independence, to start researching the transition to independence in that country, according to the CCA.

After retiring, she started working in Timor Leste as a Consultant to the Deputy Minister for Education, Sports and Youth, and continued research on Education and Development, and the Solidarity Economy.

During Hill’s stay in Timor Leste, she became an active participant at the Hosana Protestant Church in Timor Leste (IPTL) in Dili.

She helped the IPTL establish its Center of Theological Formation and regularly conducted courses on community development, gender justice and ecology.

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