Portrait of Kirsty Sword Gusmao

Kirsty Sword Gusmao

Kirsty has lived in Timor-Leste since October, 1999 and is the founder and chairwoman of the Alola Foundation which she established in 2001 to address the needs of Timorese women and their families. The Xanana Gusmão Reading Room was established in the same year and Kirsty continues as the patron and chair of this library now housed in the Sentru Kulturál Xanana in Dili. She is the Goodwill Ambassador for Education for Timor-Leste.

Kirsty Sword Gusmão was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1966. She grew up in Melbourne and Bendigo and attended Melbourne University where she completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), majoring in Indonesian and Italian and a Diploma of Education.

In 1991, after working as an administrative secretary with the Overseas Service Bureau (Australian Volunteers International), she joined the Refugee Studies Program at Oxford University as assistant to the development coordinator. During that same year, she travelled to Timor-Leste (East Timor) as the researcher/interpreter for the Yorkshire Television documentary production In Cold Blood: The Massacre of East Timor which covered political and social developments in the territory.

From 1992 to 1996, she lived and worked as a teacher and human rights campaigner in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was during these years that her work for the Timorese independence cause intensified and brought Kirsty into contact with the leader of the resistance, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, who at that time was serving a twenty-year sentence in a prison in Jakarta and whom she married in July, 2000.

The then-president Dr. José Ramos Horta appointed Kirsty as Goodwill Ambassador for Education in October 2007 and during that term she established and chaired the Timor-Leste National Commission for UNESCO and remains the president of the National Education Commission for Education.

Reappointed by president Taur Matan Ruak as Goodwill Ambassador for Education in 2012, Kirsty remains passionate about the issues of language policy and language of instruction in schools in Timor-Leste. She is collaborating with the Ministry of Education in the design and implementation of pilot programs aimed at giving a role to the nations some 30 local languages in the attainment of literacy.