Maria* from Ainaro, Timor-Leste, was married with three children when domestic violence tore her family apart and she was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Her children (the youngest was just five months old) were left without their mum. Maria was very distressed. The children weren’t allowed to visit her and she couldn’t send letters to them because she’d never gone to school to learn how to read or write.
Starting from zero
In prison, Maria began to attend a literacy course run by our local Timorese partner, PRADET. Soon, she was reading the Bible aloud at Sunday mass. But her biggest achievement was writing a letter to her family telling them about her progress in prison.
Because of her hard work, Maria’s sentence was reduced by half. When she was released, Maria was desperate to find work so she could send money to her children. The children were living with her husband’s family and she wasn’t allowed to see them, but she wanted to show them her love.
Maria looked for work for nine months but, due to a political crisis at the time, there were no jobs. She began to despair.
Taking the next step
Last year, Maria joined a business training program supported by Action on Poverty and PRADET. Combined with the literacy and numeracy skills she learned in prison, Maria was able to open her own kiosk in Dili where she sells drinks, snacks and household goods.
Maria said she uses her literacy training every day to write lists of purchases and read receipts. She can also text her family and friends from her phone.
“My business is really helpful to respond to my basic needs,” she said. “I have also diversified my business, such as buying sewing cotton to sell, and also buying pigs to raise and sell, so that I can send money to my children.”
Dreams for the future
Maria hopes that she will be reunited with her children soon. In the meantime, she is doing everything she can to earn money to support them.
“I miss my children but I cannot see them. As a mother I will make every effort to help my children go to school and be successful in the future.
“I have a plan to collect money little by little so I can build a simple home for my children and see laughter and joy.”
Donate now to help more women like Maria learn business and literacy skills so they can change their lives.
*Name has been changed
Sustainable Development Goals
This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).