Fernando La Sama de Araujo, the recently deceased Minister of Education of Timor Leste, was a freedom fighter and a visionary leader. “La Sama”, which means unbreakable, dedicated his life to the service of his country, Timor-Leste and was recently engaged in a plan to improve the quality of education. I received this news with great sadness, especially due to the engaging meetings we had in Dili, where I was on mission just a few days before he passed away.
Minister La Sama was a leader of Timorese students’ resistance movement in Indonesia and spent six years in prison in Jakarta, together with Xanana Gusmão. Following independence, he held several public positions: President of the National Parliament, Acting President, and Vice Prime-Minister. Following leadership transition in February 2015, Minister La Sama his position as Minister of State, Coordinating Minister of Social Affairs and Minister of Education.
My World Bank Group colleagues and I had the chance to spend time with Minister La Sama during my visit to Timor-Leste in late May. This was particularly meaningful because Timor-Leste has always been close to my heart. When I was in government in my country, Brazil, my colleagues and I followed news of Timor-Leste’s resistance movement and student leaders like Minister La Sama.
Minister La Sama struck me as a warm person with strong opinions who was very keen to hear my thoughts as well. We shared stories of our university years and what it was like to be a student leader during a turbulent time. He also welcomed the opportunity to discuss Timor-Leste’s challenges and opportunities in education with an audience of ambassadors, partner organizations, civil society groups, and the media.
At the forum, Minister La Sama expressed his belief in investing in education even if resources were limited. This strong push for education came from his belief that education is one of the most important investments a country can make in its future, supporting the long-term growth of nations.
The World Bank and Timor-Leste have been partners in development over the past decade and we will continue to work with the Ministry of Education to ensure that our work helps achieve the vision that Minister La Sama set out. The refurbishment of schools, the production and distribution of textbooks, and strengthening the Ministry of Education and educational institutions; this work is all about supporting Timor-Leste to reach the 10 percent of Timorese children who have never gone to primary school, and to ensure that those who are in school are getting the best education possible.
I offer my deep condolences to Minister La Sama’s family, friends and colleagues at the Ministry of Education. Timor-Leste lost 95% of its schools in the conflict leading to its independence in 2002. Today, hundreds of schools have been rebuilt across the country and Timor-Leste has seen significant progress in developing its education sector through the efforts of leaders like Minister La Sama. His legacy will live on through the efforts of his colleagues at the Ministry and the many teachers and students in Timor-Leste who are inspired by him.
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