Bondi View

The two Eastern Suburbs students making a difference in Timor Leste

Alessandro Piovano (left) and Adam Hegedus (right) will begin their new fundraising campaign on Thursday. Photo: Supplied.

By DANIEL LO SURDO

Two Eastern Suburbs locals are beginning another ambitious campaign to raise funds and awareness for disadvantaged children in Timor Leste. 

Alessandro Piovano and Adam Hegedus, two 23-year-old students from Waverley, will take on the 104-kilometre track from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles in Victoria to raise $30,000 to fund the construction of a new preschool in a remote community in Timor Leste.

Despite the duo’s plans to walk non-stop for more than 35 hours, Piovano is looking forward to the challenge.

“We’re prepared and excited for our Great Ocean Walk,” Piovano told City Hub.

“We’ve spent a few days plotting our route and acquainting ourselves with the terrain, so we’re ready to go.

“Though we feel physically ready, if our last trek taught us anything, it’s that mental preparations are the most important [factor] going into something like this.”

The pair’s newest challenge comes after five years of different efforts to provide educational relief to the children of Timor Leste. 

Instead of attending schoolies week like most 18-year-olds at the end of their secondary studies, Piovano and Hegedus opted to embark instead on an 800-kilometre trek from Bondi Beach to Byron Bay; a campaign up the Australian east coast that raised $20,000 along the way. 

Piovano and Hegedus first were inspired to walk while on their first trip to Timor-Leste, where they learned that five-year-olds in the country’s Ermera District were forced to walk up to five kilometres a day to attend the nearest preschool.

“We continue to be motivated by the dedication of these Timorese youngsters,” Piovano said.

“As we clock over five years of working in Timor-Leste, our decision to walk again is now very much motivated by the success of our work and its proven, ongoing effectiveness.”

Hegedus recognised the importance of offering education in rural areas of the nation.

“Giving children an equal opportunity to learn provides the foundations to overcome poverty, improve their communities and quality of life,” Hegedus said. 

Transforming Lives

Inspired by their first fundraising effort together, Piovano and Hegedus co-founded their own non-profit Educating The Future the next year and has since continued to set up four preschools to offer relief from poverty and generational disadvantage through preschool education. 

Piovano saw it as an important service to children suffering from inequity. 

“Learning and literacy empower children to transform their lives,” Piovano said. 

“It opens up new pathways for further education as well as better jobs and training.

“Every child deserves the chance to learn and create a better future.”

Educating The Future estimates that throughout its existence it has provided access for over 350 preschool children to quality education. 

Throughout their work, the two co-founders have built and managed relationships with government and non-government bodies to ensure that each preschool is sustained, with teacher support and maintenance a high priority for both parties. 

Piovano and Hegedus opted to target preschool education to provide an avenue of support prior to student’s primary and high school education, which have the support and financial backing of the government. The co-founders contend that the implementation of preschools will give each beneficiary the tools and skills needed to begin primary school and ready themselves for school. 

In Ermera, a municipality in the west-central region of Timor-Leste, it’s been proposed that there are still 28 preschools needed to prepare the children from each village for primary school.  

Timor-Leste has recorded increases in education levels throughout the 21st century, with the net enrollment rate growing 16 per cent in the last five years, while gender disparity in classrooms has been significantly reduced. Challenges within the nation’s education sector still remain, with dropout and repetition rates remaining high. 

In Limbo

Piovano and Hegedus planned to begin their trek on the 12th of August. As of early September, the pair haven’t yet departed due to unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria. They are committed to begin the trek once it is safe to do so, however are not sure of when that may be. 

Victoria Premier Dan Andrews announced in early September plans to move to a vaccinated economy after new cases continue to rise in the state. Under the plans, Victorians who have not received a COVID-19 vaccination will be excluded from sporting matches, restaurants, travelling and cinemas, to conduct a safe reopening for people living in Victoria.

As part of the Premier’s plans, in-person schooling will resume, with the Government finalising plans for a Term Four return. The strategy will involve the installation of ventilators in classrooms with poor airflow and an increased emphasis on outdoor learning environments, where natural ventilation greatly decreases the risk of infection.

For Piovano and Hegedus, a reopening of Victoria would mean they can begin a trek now many months in the making. Despite adverse conditions, the pair have remained positive throughout the extended lockdown and are excited to finally start their journey.

During the lockdown, Piovano and Hegedus have welcomed ten new volunteers to Educating The Future, who will each join their Fundraising, Communications, Timor-Leste Programs and Partnerships teams.

They have also used their time at home to reflect on their five years of service, including their visit to the Australian Embassy in Timor-Leste in 2019. Piovano and Hegedus led a team that shared with the Embassy Educating The Future’s plans for a second preschool. Now with plans to build a fourth, Educating The Future hold ambitions to diversify and expand their impact in Timor-Leste.

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