Tetun storybooks bridging the gap for Timorese children - Mary MacKillop Today

Tetun storybooks bridging the gap for Timorese children

Our Tetun Literacy and Teacher Training Project in Timor-Leste is improving educational outcomes for children in remote and rural areas and revitalising the native Tetun language. The project’s storybooks, developed and written by local Mary MacKillop Today staff, are also spreading important messages of inclusion, gender equality, health and hygiene, environmental sustainability, and disability rights to young readers across the country.

Artist: Jose Manuel Sarmento

Almost 30 years ago, the Sisters of St Joseph began providing literacy and teaching resources to support students to learn and write in Tetun, which was banned during the decades of Indonesian occupation.

Responding to a call for help from the Catholic Church, the Sisters created a library of Tetun language resources and developed workshops to train teachers to use them. Mary MacKillop Today continues this important work in rural communities across Timor-Leste. Local staff collaborate with the Timorese Ministry of Education to develop the Tetun curriculum, deliver training workshops for teachers and parents, and create classroom resources including illustrated storybooks in Tetun. Our aim is to strengthen the efforts of hard-working teachers to improve educational outcomes for students.

In July 2020, with kind and generous support from the family of the late Diana Petersen, we were proud to launch two Tetun storybooks that explore the rights, challenges and dignity of children living with disability. Developed for pre-school and primary school students, the books were created in consultation with the Ministry of Education, local disability organisations, not-for-profit organisations and other key stakeholders, all of whom provided input and feedback on the content. Children affected by disability were also involved, sharing their experiences about the stigma and challenges of living with disability.

The books have been approved by the Ministry of Education for use across all schools in Timor-Leste and so far have been distributed to teachers and parents through our education projects in Dili, Ermera, Manufahi and Liquiçá.

Agnes Brites Maia, Program Manager and author of one of the disability storybooks, said the hard work undertaken to develop the books has ensured a great outcome for all involved.

“Our objective was to increase the knowledge of teachers, their students and also the community so they can understand that children with disability have a right to get access to education,” she said.

“We have heard from disability organisations that they are very happy to see children with disability in the stories because it shows they have a right to participate.”

Following the success of the disability storybooks, our team in Timor-Leste has been working on several more thematic children’s books in consultation with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders. Two additional titles focused on gender equality will be published and distributed in early 2022, and the team is in the early stages of developing content for more new titles about health and hygiene and environmental sustainability.

“We hope that with the production of these books, particularly the disability and gender equality storybooks, we can teach the community to understand about disability and gender rights in order to help each other live in a prosperous manner,” Agnes said.



Tetun Literacy and Teacher Training Program receives support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).