Cailaco Boarding College, Timor Leste

The Bosco Social Justice Group has donated $15,000 to assist with the construction of a Salesian Boarding College for 50 students in Cailaco, Timor Leste.  Cailaco is part of the Parish of Maliana. A further $35,000 has been donated for the same project from the Parish Charity Fund.


Cailaco is in the Bobonaro/Maliana district, Timor Leste. The town centre is 20 km from Maliana, connected by poor standard roads, and about 130 km from the capital Dili.  It is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles and takes well over an hour to drive from Maliana town to the main village in Cailaco. Cailaco is made up of 25 small villages with a population of around 10,000 people.  The average age of the district is 19 years. Most of the population are very poor living on agriculture, in mountain villages and rice fields along the river.  The few young people who have access to high school, must walk long distances, and find it easy to abandon school. 

Some of the Children of Cailaco, taken by BSJG in 2016

Children who come from mountain villages often ask for hospitality from relatives.  In these cases they must then work for them, and in some cases there is evidence of sexual abuse, resulting in pregnancy. Their accommodation is usually poor and they are often alone without protection and in high moral risk.  

Timor Leste, Australia, and the International Order - The Pell Center for  International Relations and Public Policy

The Project

The boarding college will be for 50 vulnerable girls aged 6 to 18.  They will attend compulsory primary or secondary schools in the area, while living in the boarding college. In addition to their schooling, the Salesian Sisters will teach sewing and computer courses to facilitate professional work for young illiterate women in the area.

The boarding college will promote the integral development of the girls.  At the same time, they will experience living in conditions of hygiene and nutrition, safety and adequate accompaniment that allow them to grow in good health, psychic and spiritually, through pedagogy of Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello.

Main objectives

  1. To help these Timorese girls to get out from the condition of poverty and marginalization typical of this rural area, facilitating them access to school and live in safety.

  2. To create adequate living conditions, nutrition, health and safety for the 50 most vulnerable girls so that they can receive formal (compulsory and high school) and informal (sewing and computer courses) education.

  3. To avoid abuse and exploitation of local girls

  4. To contribute to the growth of awareness, in girls and in families, of the dignity and equality of women.

Other important remarks

The land for the building was offered by the Diocese of Maliana. The land has already been cleaned and prepared for construction.

The project was designed by a construction company, where under the management of an Indonesian manager, all staff are Timorese.  They have already built other buildings for the Sisters, with good quality and sound responsibility.

The total cost of the project will be A$1.3m. The construction works will take about a year, commencing in March after the rainy season.

The supervision of the work will be carried out by the provincial treasurer of the FMA (Salesian Sisters) in Timor Leste.

The direction and human resources necessary for the functioning of the work will be managed by the FMA community.

The Sisters in Cailaco

The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA) (we know them as Salesian Sisters) have been in Timor Leste since 1988.  They manage an orphanage, and care for poor and abandoned or endangered young people.

The community of Cailaco was opened in 2008, with the presence of four sisters who live in a small house at the back of the chapel of one of the villages. The sisters carry out pastoral activities in the public school, have an open-air oratory in 3 villages and go to visit families even in the most isolated villages in the mountains. 

John Day, Kathleen and Adrian le Gras visited the Sisters in Cailaco on the first visit of the Bosco Social Justice Group to Timor Leste in 2012. They attended early morning Mass, celebrated by Fr. Ernesto, PP of Maliana Parish, with the Sisters. Sr Maria Vic translated the readings of the day from Tetum into English for them. The sisters were living in a small house at the back of the chapel.  Cailaco’s poverty was palpable; its needs enormous: but no more so than the rest of this vast parish.

BSJG members with Sr Ernestina FMA, Sr Maria Vic FMA and Fr. Ernesto, PP Maliana, October 2012 at Cailaco

Being inserted into the reality of the place and visiting the most remote areas, the sisters realized there is high illiteracy, especially among girls. They offer short sewing courses in order to give these girls some job opportunities. At the same time the sisters teach these young people how to read and write, at least to know how to sign.

Our support of Cailaco began in 2014 when the BSJG were asked by Fr. Ernesto to fund scholarships for girls (young women) from Cailaco to the Morano Centre, run by the Salesian Sisters at Fuiloro, two days’ journey from Cailaco. One girl attended a computer/office administration course, the other two girls  attended a sewing dress making course.  All three girls then proceeded to the Salesian Sisters a vocational centre in Dili, where they were made “work ready.”  During our 2016 trip to Timor, we visited the girls in both the Morano Centre.

The facility being proposed for Cailaco will be very similar to that in Fuiloro, which is well constructed and beautifully maintained.

In 2018 the Sisters closed their sewing course in Fuiloro and moved it to Cailaco because in the previous year all the sewing students had come from Maliana, mostly Cailaco.   There was now to be a Sewing School at Cailaco run by the Salesian Sisters.

At first the sisters were running their Cailaco sewing school in their convent but this was not a viable solution.  Sr Virgilia wrote to us:

“There many girls who are drop out of the school and woman and young ladies who want learn sewing but we have no place.  Right now there are 10 persons who comes for sewing. The space that sister has cannot fit all of them.”

In the absence of any appropriate building, the sisters proposed renting a neighbour’s house.  The BSJG have been covering the cost of the monthly rental for this house as well as paying the monthly wages of two sewing teachers while the sisters worked to find a more adequate and permanent solution to the dire needs of the young women living in the surrounding countryside.

Some of the young women being helped by the Salesian Sisters in Cailaco (December 2020)