For most people in East Timor, the eastern half of an island southeast of Indonesia, educational and career opportunities are few. But Amena Cristovao, a 24-year-old woman from the rural village of Lospalos, is about to embark on the opportunity of a lifetime.
Through a sponsorship from Global Ministries – the combined ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ – Amena is just a student Visa and a plane ride away from studying in the United States. She is hoping to complete the medical laboratory technician program at Lake Superior College in Duluth, Minn. With this associates degree, Amena will be one of the most valuable medical lab technicians in all of East Timor.
"I am so excited for her," said Monica Liddle, a Global Ministries missionary who worked with Amena in an East Timor clinic, and who has helped facilitate her sponsorship. "With the education she will receive here, she will be better trained than just about anyone in working in East Timor medical labs."
Monica and her husband, Tom, returned from their three-year mission trip in East Timor in early July. During that time, Monica, a doctor, worked with Amena in Clinic Imanuel in Lospalos. It was clear to Monica that the young woman knew what she was doing –and better yet, loved what she was doing. Prior to working at the clinic, Amena earned her high school diploma and had volunteered with the Red Cross and at the hospital in the capital city of Dili. Monica says Amena has a passion for health care and a desire to learn, and specializes in tuberculosis and malaria testing, two prominent diseases in East Timor.
"I immediately noticed that Amena had really nice bedside manner, seemed to be smart and professional, and was just a joy to work with," said Monica. "She was also very interested in learning. She spoke a little English and I would help her learn more as we went along."
The Liddles, members of Peace United Church of Christ in Duluth, Minn., were visited by their pastor and two church members in East Timor last year. The group met Amena during a visit to the clinic and was equally impressed with her skills and passion. After reconvening in Duluth, the congregation informed Monica they were interested in seeing if it would be possible for Amena to come to the U.S. to receive medical training. A collaborative effort, Global Ministries will sponsor the tuition expenses, and Peace UCC, the Liddles, and other church members will help pay for housing, travel and other expenses.
"It is so satisfying when multiple parts of the same organization work together to make something good happen," said Jan Aerie, executive of mission education and interpretation for UCC Wider Church and Global Ministries. "Global Ministries Southern Asia national office, the churches in Minnesota, and several individual church members are all sharing the same vision for enabling a growing experience for a worthy young person."
There are still a few hurdles for Amena to get through before she can begin her medical laboratory technician training. First, she will be required to take a four-month English intensive course in order to keep up in an American classroom setting. Then she will have to take a year of prerequisite math and science courses prior to beginning the three-year medical program.
But even before all of that, Amena has to receive her student Visa to travel to the U.S. Her interview is currently scheduled for Aug. 13. Given the results of this interview, her plan is to begin the English program this September in St. Paul, Minn., then move to Duluth to take her prerequisite courses and begin the medical program.
"We hope that all of the paperwork is in order by the time of her interview so the U.S. Embassy will feel confident that she is doing what she says she is going to do," said Monica. "Everything is riding on that."
A large part of Amena's acceptance will be her commitment to return to East Timor once she completes her studies. In exchange for the sponsorship, Amena has agreed to fulfill a three-year contract at Clinic Imanuel where she will work to build the facility's capacity. Monica has encouraged Amena to focus on her future and the vital role she will play in the clinic and throughout East Timor.
"Right now everything is in place, but sometimes there are circumstances around Visas that we can't do anything about," Monica said. "Amena trusts that whatever happens is God's plan for her at this time, but we are really hopeful that this opportunity will work out."