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 1991, she travelled to East Timor as the Researcher/Interpreter on the Yorkshire Television documentary film Cold Blood: The Massacre of East Timor.
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 East Timorese independence cause intensified and brought her into contact with the independence leader, Xanana Gusmão, who was serving a 20-year sentence in a Jakarta jail and whom she married in July, 2000.
She has lived in East Timor since October 1999 and is the founder and chairwoman of the Alola Foundation which she established in 2001 to address the needs of East Timorese women and their families.
Kirsty was appointed by the President Dr. Jose Ramos Horta as Goodwill Ambassador for Education in October 2007. She is Chair of the Timor-Leste National Commission for UNESCO and also heads up the National Commission for Education. She is passionate about the issue of language policy and language of instruction in schools in Timor-Leste and is presently spear-heading initiatives aimed at giving a role to the country’s some 30 local languages in the education system. She has three sons, Alexandre, Kay Olok and Daniel .
Information about the work of the Alola Foundation can be found on the website: www.alolafoundation.org