By Manuel Cordeiro, a member of the Rotary Club of Vila Real, Portugal
In the 12 years since I joined the Rotary Club of Vila Real, my enthusiasm for Rotary has grown constantly. I work Rotary into everything I do and consider myself first and foremost a Rotarian. Through Rotary, I have been blessed with seeing lives changed in Timor-Leste.
As a professor of engineering at the University of Trás os Montes & Alto Douro, Villa Real, Portugal, I travel frequently on teaching assignments, and have made contacts in Timor-Leste and Mozambique, both Portuguese speaking countries. On eleven different teaching assignments of two-month duration at the University in Timor, I’ve been able to use free time to teach and mentor young people who are in need of many things, most of all attention and emotional support.
On one of my visits, I attended the Rotary Club of Dili, Timor Lorosa’e, Timor-Leste, and met a Rotarian from the Rotary Club of Ipanema, Brazil, who was in the country on work for the United Nations. He introduced me to Sister Eliene, a Dominican nun of Brazilian nationality, who has been working with Timorese teenagers.
With the financial help of Portuguese friends and Rotarians from my club, I began a project to collect school fees for Timorese students, lining up a sponsor in Portugal for each, and helping deliver letters between the students and their godparents. The project is now in its fifth year.
Timorese society tends to overlook girls. Working with the teens to enhance their cultural identity, among other things, helps these young women build self-esteem. As part of the program, they produced a CD recording of traditional Timorese music. The safety of the place also creates a space for them to do homework, sing, dance, and discuss their joys and struggles.
I have built some reputation with the Brazilian, Portuguese, and Timorese authorities, through my activities as professor and Rotarian. This in turn has helped secure much needed assistance for the community. At the request of its director, we were able to get repairs made to the Paiol Primary school and some other local schools, with the help of the Portuguese military. Nothing I have done would have been possible without my Rotary background. Rotary allows us to achieve our goals, to the benefit of those in need.