From time to time, One World will be profiling stories from our community. This month we are excited to share our conversation with dedicated volunteer, Cate Johnson, about her deep connections with One World partner, Topu Honis. Please read on to learn about Cate and her spectacular work alongside Topu Honis who is doing incredible work with children in their community.
How did Topu Honis initially get started?
"Topu Honis was officially founded in 1992, but in reality started much earlier than that. Fr. Richard arrived in on the island of Timor (initially on the Indonesian side), as a young missionary priest. Very early on, he developed a following of children who had little to eat and relied on his support. For the first few decades, this group of kids who often stayed at his church was just an informal group. But when he moved to the Oecussi region, some of them came with him and he made it a formal organization. Topu Honis was chosen as the name, which roughly translates to "Guide to life, leading by the hand." This name fits the mission well; Topu Honis not only provides food and safety to the residents, the staff tries to gently lead the members to personal empowerment. This is especially important for the female residents in a largely patriarchal society."
How did you first become connected to Topu Honis?
"My priest in central WV in high school is the brother of Fr. Richard. So as a teenager, I organized fundraisers for Topu Honis at my high school and church. Then, after I graduated college in 2007, my husband and I set off to spend our "last summer before adulthood" to volunteer in the orphanage. That trip changed our lives; we returned 6 months later to adopt our first daughter from there and then 3 years later to adopt our second. Years after, my parents traveled there with us and chose to adopt four kids of their own. So now I have two daughters and four siblings who are all Topu Honis kids. We visit as often as we can and maintain as close of a connection as possible from afar."
What sort of impact do you see Topu Honis having in the community today?
"Timor-Leste is a new country and faces many serious challenges. The childhood malnutrition rate is one of the highest in the world and most families live in extreme poverty. They are being hit hard by climate change and food insecurity is becoming a very real problem. Topu Honis' nutrition services for both their children and adult members is extremely important. When walking through the villages in that region, it is very easy to distinguish Topu Honis kids from village children; their high-protein and varied diet shows. Also, all children at Topu Honis go to school. In village families, it is common for only some (often the male) children to be given a formal education. All able Topu Honis members all graduate high school and many of them go on to university or other post-secondary education. Add finally, all the staff mothers are women who have fled unwanted marriages, abuse, or are widowed. There are little to no options for women's employment, and Topu Honis provides that."
How would you like to see Topu Honis continue to grow into the future?
"Honestly, my biggest wish for Topu Honis is just that it gets the funding it needs to continue, mostly as is. To me, it's an ideal model. If a child cannot be raised in their own family, Topu Honis is the next best option. If there would be an expansion, I would hope that we could institute more formal education opportunities within the complex, like English lessons, sex education, and programs to promote personal empowerment. And, more funding for college scholarships would be a great addition too!"