Imagine a teacher from primary school remembering you vividly, fifty years later.
Sister Josephine Mitchell is a Josephite nun. A renowned champion of human rights and social justice, she is, among other roles, a former teacher, both in Australia and East Timor.
Educare, she says, means to grow. Teaching means helping young people to grow and realise their dreams. Providing education and being a small part of someone’s life is, to her, a privilege.
Sr Josephine tells a story about a little boy that she taught 50 years ago, on the banks of the Richmond River, in northern NSW. It seems, to me, remarkable, that she remembers individual students from so long ago.
“I can remember that little kid and many many little kids like that.”
“Most of the ones we dealt with in Timor really wanted to make something… they wanted to go further, but didn’t have any way to do it.”
The criteria for accepting children into the schools she taught in in East Timor were simple: The children couldn’t afford to pay for an education. Sr Josephine is fiercely passionate about working to alleviate poverty and to respect human dignity.
“A human person who is inhibited because… they’re not respected, they’re being persecuted, oppressed, living in poverty - in such poor conditions they can’t break out of that.”
To her, such injustice is intolerable. She doesn’t see it as helping though. There is a condescension to helping someone. It’s about working towards freedom, and that is a mutual process.
“They can reflect back to me who I am. Sometimes I’m not the most desirable sort of person and they can let me know that things aren’t going too well. They can affirm me. Their values, they can share with me, some things that I have not considered. Some of them overcome huge difficulties to keep developing. That’s heroic, some of them have very big obstacles.”