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A Gift Like 'Nun' Other


Alma Nuns

PR Company: 

Insight Communications

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2010 C16 - 2



Executive Summary: 

Healthcare in East Timor (Timor-Leste) is considered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be among the most inadequate in the world. With limited healthcare services and specialist expertise particularly in rural areas, children die from, or are disabled by preventable diseases. Socially, children with a disability have been described as ‘the lowest of the low’ with limited or no access to essential services.

Four Nuns of the ALMA Order (‘Asossiasi Lembaga Misionaris Awam’, meaning Association of Lay Missionaries for the poor and the disabled) inspired by Mother Teresa, provided the only essential physiotherapy service available to hundreds of disabled children in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Travelling from home-to-home, their only mode of transport was a motor scooter. To improve services, and treat more children from a wider geographical area, they needed a car.

When Paul Stewart, brother of Tony Stewart (Balibo Five) appeared on ABC’s Compass on August 9th highlighting the plight of the Nuns, he appealed for donations. $AU10,000 was needed. Only $AU3,000 was donated.

Without a fundraising committee or big budget fundraising campaign, Insight volunteered to create a media fundraising appeal to touch the hearts of thousands of Australians, generating more money than the Nuns ever imagined.

Situation Analysis: 

Following a bloody war of independence, Timor-Leste is the world’s newest nation. Its people have inadequate healthcare and are among the poorest in the world.

There was no government support offering physiotherapy services for children and adults with disabilities. With the ALMA Nuns (all qualified physiotherapists) offering the only physiotherapy available in Dili to children with disabilities, they walked or travelled around Dili sharing a single motor scooter, struggling from day-to-day to provide hundreds of children with disabilities with free, essential physiotherapy in their homes in the hope they could improve mobility and the quality of life for these children and their parents.

Due to a critical lack of funds and inadequate transport, the services the Nuns were able to offer and the number of children they could treat in Dili was severely limited. With the Nun’s scooter unsuitable for long-distance travel, roads to the regions poorly maintained and dangerous with rebels still hiding in the hills, children with disabilities living outside Dili in the districts and Bacau were forced to go without this unique essential service.

The Nuns desperately needed a car to visit the children and transport those living in Dili to and from their make-shift clinic, as well as treat more children from a wider geographical area offering regular, comprehensive treatment for as many children as possible.

Amid the wave of publicity surrounding the new film ‘Balibo’, Paul Stewart featured on ABC’s Compass (My Brother, Balibo & Me) appealing to Australians to donate funds to purchase a safe, reliable vehicle for the Nuns, thereby improving their security, working conditions and services.

Insight had worked with Paul on other Timorese health projects and contacted him to congratulate him on this project. He had hoped this compelling story would inspire Australians to give $AU10,000. One week after the story aired, only $AU3,000 had been donated. Insight identified an immediate public relations campaign opportunity to leverage the Compass story and the publicity surrounding the film and help generate funds to purchase the vehicle, offering our services free of charge.


While research was restricted due to time constraints, Insight has been actively involved in improving healthcare in Timor-Leste since 2001. We understood the challenges - the country’s limitations, its limited communication technologies, the risks, issues and lack of healthcare services, the language and cultural barriers. We drew on this knowledge and accessed healthcare statistics on file while conducting informal research about the Nuns and their work.

Research about ‘Balibo’ and the film’s publicity enabled us to evaluate key leverage points. We also researched other fundraising campaigns to avoid directly going up against a campaign launch competing for media coverage and donations.

Journalists who’d covered stories on Timor-Leste were a priority intervening public. With prior knowledge of Timor-Leste they’d understand the story’s significance, be motivated and well equipped to portray the tremendous need of the children and the Nuns, with sincerity and compassion.

Interviews with Paul formed a crucial part of our research providing information about ‘Balibo’ publicity, background information about the Nuns, their work and the children they cared for.  He also provided emotive insight which formed the basis of the story we would pitch to target publics via media.

Working within a constrictive timeframe to leverage ‘Balibo’ publicity and Australia’s revived interest in the plight of the Timorese, a strategically timed placement of our pitch would ensure effective management of the campaign, avoiding competing fundraising campaigns and high profile stories.

Television and radio coverage was unlikely. There were no Australian television crews in Dili. Paul had just completed an extensive round of radio interviews for ‘Balibo’ – his moment in the public eye had passed.

Challenges included:

  • Narrow window of opportunity
  • Limited access to information and spokesperson
  • Only one Nun spoke broken English
  • No website or direct online donation facility, highly effective fundraising tools
  • Australian media had no easy, immediate access to the Indonesian speaking Nuns or families
  • Paul had already done multiple interviews promoting ‘Balibo’ therefore gaining interviews about the Nuns and children would be difficult
  • The story would compete with:
    • Other major stories: Michael Jackson’s homicide and the Black Saturday Royal Commission
    • Fundraising campaigns by well resourced Australian organisations: McGrath Foundation, Daffodil Day, Variety Bash, RSPCA national campaign, other international aid organisations
  • The GFC was significantly impacting on charitable donations, globally. Although a compelling story, Compass failed to generate sufficient funds - evidence that the GFC was biting hard on the generosity of Australians. It was possible the GFC would also impact on our fundraising campaign

Target Policies: 

In a fundraising media campaign designed to raise awareness of the plight of the children and the Nun’s struggle to care for them, our target publics included:

  • Catholics - connection to the Nuns
  • Australians - donations
  • Mothers - empathy for children and parents
  • Health workers – wanting to improve healthcare for children
  • People with disposable incomes

Intervening publics included:

  • Major metropolitan publications - particularly journalists with previously experience in Timor- Leste
  • Catholic/religious media
  • News, health, not-for-profit media

Communication Strategy: 

The theme of the campaign was simple - Help the Nuns so they can help the children.

Strategy included:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Critical timeline
  • Source information on:
    • The Nuns, their service, impact on children with disabilities
    • ‘Balibo’ publicity
  • Paul Stewart interviews
  • Source photographs
  • Identify target publics
  • Develop key messages and media kit
  • Identify intervening publics and appropriate distribution channels to reach target publics


Paul provided background on ‘Balibo’, sourced photographs and information, organised a representative spokesperson and arranged for donations to be received on behalf of the Nuns by the Jesuit Mission in North Sydney NSW, ensuring 100% of funds raised would be delivered to the Nuns.

Based on research, Insight created key messages and developed the media kit including information about the Nun’s work and photographs to visually demonstrate the need for support.

On Monday 17th August, we strategically distributed the media kit to select journalists and publications via the wire, email and direct to Insight contacts. (Appendix A)

Lindsay Murdoch of Fairfax who’d been reporting in Timor-Leste for some years, immediately identified the importance of the story. He flew to Dili to cover it.


On August 26th, Lindsay’s story and the powerful images of the Nuns treating severely disabled children appeared in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and Brisbane Times.

While a variety of media responded favourably and agreed to publish the story with articles appearing in print and online, it was Lindsay Murdoch’s compelling images and compassionate story that started the wave of support for the Nuns and the children they care for.

With no online donation resource available, cheques and money orders began arriving at the Jesuit Mission, North Sydney by post. Some were delivered by hand. At 5:30pm on Friday 28th August, Paul called to advise the appeal had generated over $AU20,000.

While more stories continued to appear in print and online, funds kept rolling in. The campaign generated a total $AU73,900 - more than enough to purchase a new 4 x wheel-drive vehicle and fund fuel and maintenance for years to come. To put this figure into context, a senior government nurse in Timor-Leste earns $AU150 per month, plus a bag of rice.

On September 10th, Paul appeared on Channel 7’s Sunrise thanking Australians for their compassionate support.

On December 7th and 8th stories and photographs featuring Paul delivering the vehicle to the Nuns and children appeared on page 12 of the Sydney Morning Herald and page 8 of The Age, respectively.

Due to the involvement and support of the Australian media and the generosity of Australians, the Nuns now offer higher quality services to a greater number of children with disabilities throughout Dili and the remote districts.

The funds also enabled the Nuns to purchase shoes...


Although not our biggest campaign, it is among our most rewarding. With just one week lead-time and one strategically placed media release, the campaign exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Evaluation table