Director-General of Secondary Education Luis Manuel Fernandes shows students how to dispose trash properly. (Photo by Thomas Ora)
The Timor-Leste government has appreciated a Catholic plan to prioritize peace education in schools which is needed to heal societal trauma from years of conflict.
Luis Manuel Fernandes, Director-General of Secondary Education at the Ministry of Education, said the country must cultivate decent ways to raise young people.
"There are some schools in Timor-Leste where students beat other students, even students beat teachers," he said.
In the wake of such violence, in 2014 the Cristal Foundation, a Catholic education institute, founded a peace education program in schools. Last year more than 53 teachers and 350 students were enrolled for the program.
"The minister of education supports this kind of initiative," said Fernandes at the opening of a four-day course conducted for students and teachers on Oct. 4. "I hope that students and teachers begin to realize that they are ambassadors of peace."
Charles Fatima Guterres, a school head, said that she had asked all her teachers and 175 students to join the program "because we want to build a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere between teachers and students."
"The method helps teachers and students focus on building mutual respect, love for others, environment, and society," she said.
Through the use of art, students develop their creativity and have no time to process their feelings about violence in their families or society (Photo by Thomas Ora)
Melania Auxilia Perreira, a student at Cristal High School, said that the three-month course taught her the importance of dialogue between students, teachers, parents and other elements in society.
"It’s important that schools teach students how to dialogue with others," she said.
Salesian Father Manuel Pinto, director of the Don Bosco Center for Professional Training in Dili, said that peace education is important for Timor-Leste after years of violence.
Teachers play an important role in sowing peace, love and respect. But when they teach with violence, students will replicate it.
"Nowadays there are many children who do not respect and even threaten their parents," Father Pinto told ucanews.com, adding that it is not only a threat to their families but to society and the church.
Cristal Foundation director, Agostinho dos Santos Gonsalves, said education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.
"The center of peace education is for students and teachers," he said.
Similarly, Martinho da Costa, a psychologist and university lecturer, welcomed any measure taken to ensure Timor-Leste youth stay away from hatred and violence inherited from the country's dark history.
"Even a harsh word from a teacher can create trauma for students. They will grow in fear and low self esteem," he said. "So teachers must show affection to students," he said.
The education sector, like much of the country, was destroyed by departing Indonesian forces in October 1999 after the East Timorese overwhelmingly chose freedom from Indonesia in a UN-sponsored referendum.
The country is still scarred by this history. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress abound and often manifest itself in the form of corporal punishment and child abuse. Many teachers in Timor-Leste schools are physically abusive toward children, which easily fuels additional trauma.