Friends of Venilale (FoV)
Friends of Venilale is an incorporated group affiliated with Mansfield Shire Council which maintains a reciprocal relationship with Venilale (pronounced vennee-LAH-lay) in Timor-Leste.
Who we are: The Committee is made up of people from Mansfield and district, with administrative support from the Mansfield Shire Council.
When we meet: All interested people are welcome to attend our meetings, which are held on the fourth Wednesday of the month at the Buckland Room of the Mansfield Community Centre at 6pm. Meetings usually last about an hour.
How to join: To put your name on our mailing list and receive newsletters and information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone David Foster on 03 5775 1595 or Janet Mackenzie on 03 5775 2988.
Venilale is in the high country in the east of Timor-Leste. Like Mansfield, Venilale is both a town and a local government area. Its population is about 16,000. Besides the main township of Venilale there are eight groups of villages or suco (pronounced SOO-ko).
The economy of the area is mostly rural, based on rice grown in terraced fields worked by water buffalo, or in some cases by rotary hoes. Most people are subsistence farmers and they face many obstacles: low crop yields, lack of access to clean water, poor infrastructure and inadequate market access as well as low literacy and education levels.
Mansfield and Venilale signed a memorandum of understanding establishing a Friendship relationship in May 2005. FoV employs a full-time Friendship Liaison Officer and a part-time Tourism Officer, Education Officer and translator. They are based at the Community Internet Centre in Venilale.
In October 2003 Mansfield Secondary College was the first Australian school to be paired with an East Timorese school in the Friendship Schools Project. The link has been maintained although the official project ceased in 2008. Bercoli State Junior High School is located at Bercoli, several kilometres from Venilale
Students from Mansfield Secondary College visited in 2011, 2013 and 2015, and it is hoped to send another group in 2017.
The students at Mansfield and Bercoli have exchanged letters and photos, and student fundraising has enabled Mansfield SC to donate sporting and arts equipment, stationery and books as well as computer hardware and instruction. The construction of a basketball court at Bercoli was a major assistance project.
Friends of Venilale initiated a Partner Program in 2015, so far linking a further 8 Venilale schools with schools and church parishes in Mansfield Shire.
Groups and individuals from Mansfield have visited Timor-Leste at their own expense every year since the friendship relationship began. Some go as tourists, others lead student groups, teach English or promote economic development. Two members of FoV were official observers for the 2012 national election.
Mansfield has hosted more than half a dozen teachers and local government officials from Venilale for study placements and cultural exchange.
Mansfield Shire, under its Small Towns Scheme, provides an annual grant of $2000 to FoV to assist the development of local government in Venilale.
FoV raises funds by selling Venilale handicrafts and East Timorese coffee through the Made in Mansfield cooperative shop and at Mansfield bush markets. This money is used to fund projects and buy equipment and supplies requested by the Venilale community.
From time to time FoV organises fundraising events such as dinners and film shows, and partner schools raise funds to support their Friendship School.
Because all administrative tasks are performed by volunteers, all money raised goes to support the Venilale community.
A trip to Venilale, 2009
Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network