SERVICE ORIENTED: Dr Valideh Hosseini in Lismore with her young protégée, Madalena Maria Barros, from Timor Leste.
SERVICE ORIENTED: Dr Valideh Hosseini in Lismore with her young protégée, Madalena Maria Barros, from Timor Leste. Sophie Moeller

From Red Cross to Timor Leste it's all about service

IN A small village in an interior district of Timor Leste, Dr Valideh Hosseini is fondly referred to as "Aunty”.

In Lismore we knew her as the regional manager of Red Cross for 11 years. Even then, her story came before her as an Iranian refugee who came to Australia to escape religious persecution in 1986.

She brought up her children here and made a big difference to the refugee community. But, as her young protege, Madalena Maria Barros (known simply as Nona) will tell you, what she is doing in Timor Leste is shaping a nation.

Indeed, Nona is speaking from experience because Dr Hosseini has already played a big part in shaping her.

"Nona is a role model in Timor Leste,” said Dr Hosseini. "The young all want to be like her. She has become accomplished in English and the world and now runs activities in 30 neighbourhoods transform- ing villages across the districts”.

Nona and her siblings were brought up by her mother after her father died due to poor medical services when she was five.

Luckily, her extended family enabled Nona to enrol in the school set up by the Bahai' Faith under the direction of Dr Hosseini.

Women in Timor Leste - a former Portuguese colony for 500 years which became independent from Indonesia in 2002 - have traditionally remained uneducated and at home from the time they are married.

Nona is very happy to be able to now make a difference to her people. She has been teaching what she has learnt for over six years, attended youth conferences around the world and is working with nearly 300 youths in her country.

"There have been over 10 000 families influenced by the education being offered to young,” said Dr Hosseini.

"Youth are like sponges, they like to learn and Nona is their inspiration,” she said.

"The hope is they will travel to other countries, stay and work, learn English and take their skills back to their own homeland with money to support their families.”

Of her own desire to return to the country of her birth she is sanguine.

"One day I will be able to go home to Iran but for me now, with my own family grown up, it is about my Timorese children. Lismore will also always be home. My parents are here and this is where I shall die.

"I see the earth as one country with humankind as its citizens. Each of us has a life to serve and make a difference. We need to empower our refugees so they can go home and look after themselves.”