Sr. Paola Battagliola – Italy

Linked with The Salesian Sisters.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “The East Timorese have to start from zero. They have to build their freedom into reality. They must take it one step at a time. Within time, progress will come about”.

She says also: “I always wanted to serve the people. It was the highest goal in my life. I was ready since the beginning”.

And she says: “I love my work; I still visit East Timor regularly. As long as I can serve the people, I am very happy to work anywhere”. Paola declared that her greatest joy is being able to meet with the children she guided over the past 16 years. Sharing her reasons for enduring the work. I received cultural inputs and felt more patient. The work makes me understand people more. I learned a lot from the East Timorese. The fact is, I take more from them and I should have given them more. I still need to give them more”.

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Sorry, I can not find any photo of Sr. Paola Battagliola, Italy (see also my comment ‘Brave women without photos‘).

She works for the Salesian Sisters.

Sister Paola Battagliola (born 1952) is a dedicated missionary from Italy. She moved to East Timor in 1988 and set up two orphanages and a vocational training school for young girls in remote villages of Los Palos. Ever since, she has helped hundreds of East Timorese children attain better education and shelter in a volatile environment until the 1999 catastrophe. She now resides in Jakarta, as a Superior of a Salesian Sisters’ School for East Timorese future young sisters.

Sr. Paola was raised and educated in Brescia, Italy. “I am the oldest in my family. Our father is a carpenter and mother worked in a factory”. Little Paola was raised within a Catholic environment and religious atmosphere. She felt summoned to work for God.

After joining the convent, she taught in a Catholic school in Bologna for ten years. She entered the order of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, more commonly known as the Salesian Sisters. As a Sister, she was ready to go for missionary work. She asked the Superior to be sent abroad. In 1988, she left Italy to work as a missionary in East Timor. After ten years, she was transferred to Jakarta to continue her missionary work there.

When Sr. Paola began her work as a missionary, she was assigned as the Superior of three Sisters.

“We first arrived in Bakao city in the eastern part of East Timor, before moving to another remote area”, she says. The Sisters immediately set out for a remote mountain village named Venilale, located in the interior of the island.

They had nothing but one suitcase each, containing their few belongings. “We worked very hard to adapt to the local culture and norms”.

Paola and the other Sisters did not speak the local language Tetun, and there were no Tetun dictionaries available at the time. They were temporarily housed by a family where they stayed for three months: learning the language, how to cook on an open fire, how to live as the people lived. “We took care of orphans, children abandoned by families, and we educated them in our orphanage. We wanted them to feel loved and appreciated. We also guided their spiritual knowledge”.

The two orphanages located in Venilale and Laga, in Los Palos district have more than 240 children. The Sisters also opened health clinics nearby the orphanages to serve poor families.

Apart from the imaginable difficulties of learning how to live in a small village, there were also the obstacles that Sr. Paola had to face with regard to the political situation at the time. East Timor was then occupied by the Indonesian military who made life for the East Timorese difficult and uncertain.

Many things changed in the East Timor political situation. During the riots in 1991 (Santa Cruz massacre), some of our children were involved in the incident and were missing or died. But we still went on with our school and work. We tried to protect the other children from harm”.

The tension between the authorities and the local residents created many clashes, and the children sought refuge in the church as well as in the Salesian Sister’s community. Paola and her colleagues tried to provide the children with an understanding of what was happening and make them understand that they would be safe with her, that she would guarantee their security. The Sisters also approached and negotiated with the military officers to make sure they could get access to security. Although some of the children from families accused of being part of the separatist movement came to hide in her shelter, Sister Paola treated them just as one of her other children.

“We also work with the Government. Our schools are registered with the local Government and we received some aid from the Government for the children, such as paper and books”.

She believes that good communication and networking with related organizations can have a great impact on the children’s welfare.

Sister Paola says that there were times during the tensions in East Timor when fear appeared in her heart.

“Yes, I was a little bit scared at night. Usually, at night time many things would happen. We heard gunshots and people roaming around the area. We just wished nothing would happen to the children”. The militia who occupied the streets those days could be violent. They intimidated her not to do anything suspicious, including hiding people from the separatist movement. Sister Paola had to provide shelter for more than 100 refugees in her shelter. Most of them were women and children.

When the turmoil begun, many organizations evacuated from East Timor. Sister Paola refused to leave East Timor and provided humanitarian aid instead. She recalled those moments: “I was already transferred to Jakarta in August 1999, but I went back at the end of August 1999 to East Timor to back up a colleague Sister who was sick those days. I was glad to be there. I felt that God wanted me to help those people”.

Within ten years, two orphanages, a vocational training school for young women, two boarding facilities for high school age orphan girls, two clinics, various youth groups, educational and health outreach programs for distant villages, and a center for street children were established. Today there are a total of nine communities under the Salesian Sisters both in Jakarta and Dili.

The reality in East Timor today gives slightly different images of the newborn country. “Yes, people wanted to get freedom and they got it. The people felt they achieved their main goal. But the road to democracy is still very long and winding”.

Sister Paola feels that the people need to be more patient with the changes. They have to develop their country step by step. “The East Timorese have to start from zero. They have to build their freedom into reality. They must take it one step at a time. Within time, progress will come about in places”.

Today, Sister Paola works in Jakarta to educate the future Salesian Sisters from East Timor.

Women’s issues also concern Sister Paola. Many women are involved in public spheres and some are able to speak up for their rights. But in remote areas, the situation hardly changes. “Today, many foreign people come to East Timor and create problems. East Timorese girls in the city work as prostitutes to get easy money. It is a challenge to do something. Many children also want to have a job in the cities. They will not stay in the village.

For the future, Sister Paola feels a huge amount of enthusiasm. “There is always hope along the way. We never give up our effort. We have to work together. There should be coordination between church, organizations, networks and all people in harmony. We need to find our common ground. I like to dream. My dream is mainly for the young people. I dream for them to get on their feet, help them prepare, help them find work or happiness in life. Help them clear their paths. Help them as a member of God’s kingdom”. (1000PeaceWomen).

Seorang suster yang banyak aktif di kegiatan-kegiatan yang menjunjung tinggi harkat dan martabat perempuan. Tujuan utamanya hanya satu: melepaskan kemiskinan dan keterbelakangan kaum perempuan. (full long text).

686, Missione in Oriente.

A Dili, devastata e silenziosa dove la gente ha perso tutto.



Solidarietà da “Fatto a mano per dare una mano” (Bologna);

Cuore Amico;

Kolom – Kesehatan;

Suor Paola Battagliola.

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